Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Wed 17 May.
While many once fantastic bands of their generation have either been diminished by line-up changes, destroyed by substance abuse, or simply descended into rote nostalgia, Living Colour have been hard at work, touring extensively for the past four years, playing every venue they can fill, and consequently they sound better than ever.
A Living Colour show is always spontaneous because the band is restless with too much skill to settle for just playing their songs as recorded. Vernon Reid’s signature lightning fast solos are as fleeting as they are unrepeatable, and that same improvisatory streak runs through Will Calhoun’s drum fills, Corey Glover’s vocal melodies and screams, and Doug Wimbish’s bass slaps. These guys could play the same setlist every night and produce substantially different results.
Tonight they encountered a packed and energised Governor Hindmarsh Hotel that egged them on and the result was incendiary. Opening with Robert Johnson’s Preachin’ Blues, they quickly got to work stretching the blues to suit their aggressive style. Doug Wimbish introduced Wall, the closer from 1993’s Stain, and a not-so-subtle dig at what’s his face in the White House, with its litany of societal divisions and its plea that, “The wall between us all must fall.”
Next came a one-two punch from their still remarkable debut album, 1988’s Vivid, in the form of Middle Man and Desperate People, both of which were delivered with a ferocity that provoked an ecstatic reaction from the crowd.
From there they bulldozed their way through Stain’s Mind Your Own Business and Ignorance Is Bliss before locking into a muscular groove for their cover of The Notorious B.I.G.’s Who Shot Ya? The crowd was game, and turned Love Rears Its Ugly Head into a massive sing-along.
The band stretched out, granting Doug Wimbish and Will Calhoun extended solos in the second act, giving them a chance to showcase their respective talents while allowing the other members a likely needed breather, especially Corey Glover, who still wrings every drop out of his improbably undiminished range. He’s also a consummate entertainer, dancing, cracking jokes, and generally more than holding his own against his band’s trio of world-class instrumentalists.
Down the stretch, Living Colour turned Elvis Is Dead into a playful argument with Corey entreating the audience to convince Vernon of the King’s passing by chanting along while Vernon chided back “I don’t believe them…they’re getting quieter,” and, “Whatever,” before they slipped a verse of Hound Dog in the middle, complete with Elvis dance moves. From there, they broke straight into their up-tempo version of Type, the lead single from 1991’s Time’s Up.
Living Colour ended the show as they opened, once again referencing the elephant in every room with a cover of David Bowie’s I’m Afraid Of Americans before closing out with their still painfully relevant signature single, Cult Of Personality, prompting a sigh of recognition with lyrics like, “I exploit you, still you love me…I tell you one and one makes three.”
After a quick break, they returned to play the title track from their sophomore album, Time’s Up, segueing into a jam on James Brown’s Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, and then ending the night with Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love.
For a band so heavy and politically-minded, they sure know how to show people a good time; there were smiling faces everywhere as the performance ended. Living Colour thanked the audience profusely from the stage, and proceeded to humbly work the merchandise table, signing autographs and chatting to all comers. They promised to come back, as their new album Shade is being released in September, so hopefully we’ll be seeing more of them soon.
All images courtesy of Peter Marsella