Living Colour heat up Johnny D’s

A review of Living Colour at Johnny D’s on September 10, 2009

, Staff Writer

Living Colour are back on the road and rocking the clubs just as hard as they did in the late ’80s. The band gave a rousing performance at Johnny D’s in Davis Square on Thursday, cramming an overload of bodies into the small space, blowing out ears and leaving fans old and new alike content with the show they had just seen.

Living Colour are significant primarily because of the times in which they came to be. By the 1980s, rock had turned itself into a white men’s club. Gone were the days of Jimi Hendrix and the like. Living Colour came into being and set about turning that fact on its head: their sound is a unique blend of mostly metal and funk, though elements of jazz, punk, and hip hop come out fairly frequently, as well. They achieved a fair amount of mainstream success in their time together before disbanding in 1995. The band reunited in 2000 are now on the road to support on tour their brand new album, The Chair In The Doorway, which was released last week.

With the wave of old bands getting back together, there was a bit of concern that Living Colour were just a bunch of has-beens eager to make a quick buck with a soulless tour. They quickly set these doubts aside on Thursday night by busting out a raucous “Middle Man” from their 1988 debut album, Vivid. Drummer Will Calhoun laid down a tight funk beat while Vernon Reid and Doug Wimbish – guitar and bass, respectively – joined in, creating the tune that was instantly recognizable to fans. Frontman Corey Glover got the audience going right away, walking around on stage confidently, singing directly to those in the front row.

“It’s fucking hot in here,” Glover commented in between songs. Not surprising, considering how packed the venue was. Johnny D’s is a fairly small venue, and Living Colour brought the place to beyond its capacity. There was literally nowhere to go in the place that wasn’t jam-packed with people, save a single lonely corner where one guy was watching the NFL’s opening night.

“Desperate People” was a pretty clear highlight for bigger fans of the band. The song is definitely more metal than funk, and Reid really showed off his guitar chops on it. Rolling Stone magazine named him onto their list of all-time greatest guitarists, and it’s clear why: his tone is fuzzy and loud, yet delivered cleanly through speakers. He’s able to make the instrument do pretty much whatever he wants, rocking out one minute, wailing the next, riffing in the background on occasion. Of course, during this particular song, he dropped a ridiculous shredding solo, zooming up and down on the guitar’s neck like it was something he did all the time.

The band’s cohesiveness as an ensemble went a long way towards selling their performance: metal has moved well beyond what Living Colour does, to the point that (relatively) they are no longer considered heavy. However, you don’t often see a band as succinctly on-point with one another as you do with these guys. At all times they are all exactly on the same page, and clearly having a good time; these two facts went a long way towards legitimizing the whole performance, though I may be in the minority with this opinion, considering how many diehard fans the band seems to have.

Things got a bit lighter with songs like “Glamour Boys”, which inevitably reminds one of the African flavors that come out in, say, Graceland. “Glamour Boys” has its own sort of camp value at this point. It’s hard to take the song all that seriously nowadays, being pretty firmly stuck in the 80s with its sound, but it was still good enough to keep everyone dancing.

It wasn’t until the end of the show that they dropped “Cult of Personality”, which is far and away the band’s most famous song, bolstered by an appearance in one of the Guitar Hero games. Pretty much everyone in the audience knew this song, and they sang the crap out of it, pumping fists in the air while Reid laid down the fairly complex guitar part. Everyone saw its performance coming up – there was no way they weren’t going to play the song – but that didn’t seem to diminish the moment at all.

Living Colour’s show lasted a good while, two-plus-hours, and they managed to hold interest in spite of the venue being less than ideal for a show of its type. Beating the heat, the large numbers, and a fairly lengthy break in between the opener and themselves, they delivered a show that will keep older fans happy, and will surely bring newer ones into the fold.

Leave a Reply