Living Colour

You might have grasped, from my Wilco post at least, that this month of December I am taking quite a personal use of this space.
I will keep this trend, but cheer it up a bit!

Living Colour have been important to me for about 20 years. Beyond their music for a very personal record.
Almost everyone start going to concerts with mates, more or less as teenagers. They are cool, different nights out. The ones you remember.
Then if live music becomes a passion (or an addiction), you want to go and see gigs for the mere pleasure of the gig. It happens that you don’t want to miss a concert because your friends don’t bother no more.

This is an important moment in the life of people loving live music. At a certain point of our “gig-going career” arrives the first gig you go on your own. For the pleasure of music.
That day changes the way you will think and approach live music in the future.

Can you remember what was your first “solo” gig?
Mine dates back to 11 June 1993. I was still living in Rome and Living Colour were playing in a theatre the other side of town from where I lived. I could neither borrow my parents car nor any of my friends bothered to go, but I didn’t want to miss it.

I got on my moped, crossed the entire city, got there. I still remember the weird feeling of being on my own, no one to share comments, emotions, impressions. It was different, more intimate. A one to one with the music.
After that great gig, my connection with Living Colour was beyond the music, was going to be forever.
After that night, I went to hundreds of gigs on my own and the weirdness of the first experience left space to the freedom of enjoying music for the sake of it. It’s worth.

I went to see Living Colour second time in UK. I thing it was 2003, they were playing the “old” London Garage after the reunion. December 2009, same venue (now fully refurbished) where they played tonight’s gig. About 25 years since they formed, over 20 since Vivid, their stunning debut. An album that changed black music, but I’ll come to this later.

Following Vivid, Living Colour released another two masterpieces.
Time’s Up, still with Muzz Skilling on bass, was the perfect evolution. The band retained its heavy sound but explored more commercial areas and made their biggest commercial success. An album packed with music ideas, nowadays one of these songs would be enough for a band to fill an entire LP.

At their peak Muzz Skilling left. For hardcore fans this is the end of the “real Living Colour” which is unfair if you consider that to replace him arrived another phenomenal bass player, still with them since: Doug Wimbish.
Stain is their third album, a darker more intimate collection of songs. Midway through the album it contains one of the most beautiful ballads, by drummer Will Calhoum. Nothingness. Lyrics deserve to be here despite it wasn’t played tonight.

“Well like a descendant, I drifted far, far and wide
Isolation, separation, no where to hide
Maybe there’s somewhere I can go
Where there’s sunshine and the wind won’t blow

All I have to feel is my loneliness
Nothing in the attic ‘cept an empty chest
And nothing lasts forever

Although there are many, I look for no one, no one but me
I search for things that are taking me high and far out of reach
But this is the place I call my home
I live with the lies and the fear all alone

All I have to feel is my lonliness
Nothing in the attic ‘cept an empty chest
And nothing lasts forever

Empty chest
And nothing lasts forever
Nothing lasts forever”


Living Colour split a couple of years after Stain with any member going solo in side arty, jazzy, intellectual projects.
They reunited in 2000. Released another album Copperopolis in 2003, which was not more than a reason to tour (was it?). Today Living Colour are touring their fifth album, The Chair in the Doorway.

Despite and over-excited Rolling Stone review I don’t find this album adds anything to the impact Living Colour had on hard rock in the past. It is a good album, it has Vernon Reid‘s guitar solos, Doug Wimbish landmark effected slap-bass lines and Will Calhoum ever impressive drumming.
The album is released on metal label Megaforce, which may be the problem. The production goal seems to move the band’s sound to the label audience more than the other way round. There is a bit too much of classic heavy metal riffs, Metallica inspired big guitars, heavy drumming. Not a lot of the classy, bluesy, funky music they became famous for.

Nevermind. One thing is to listen to a new Living Colour album, another thing is to experience Living Colour live. They could tour without having to promote an album, but you know how these things go.

If you are a fan of musicianship, Living Colour are one of the most skilled bands out there. A band that is able to mediate technique and musical meaning without becoming an empty exercise on speed, strange harmonies or odd beats.
Any of the member released DVDs and CDs on technical tricks and tips about his instrument. All of them are reference for a generation of professional musicians that followed.

The stage is packed with instrumentation. The vintage Vernon Reid amplifiers with their shiny golden valves and his endless set of pedals are a first sign of what we are about to getting. A guitar geek would get mad for them.
Same vision around Doug Wimbish wall of bass amplis and even more pedals.
Will Calhoum drums have his name printed on the bass drum. Something you can do only if you are a legend. He is, and the breathtaking solo midway through the gig will show it off.

Ignorance is Bliss opens the gig, and it’s indeed a bliss. A couple of old tracks, Which Way to America and Auslander reminded everyone why 25 years on Living Colour can still sell out venues both sides of the oceans.

When these guys appeared, they changed a key prejudice about black music and hard rock.
It was the second half of the eighties, Public Enemy and rap in general brought social issues into urban music. The rest of black music rotated around soul, pop and Michael Jackson.
Black music, from the seventies funk and disco boom, either moved into hip-hop, or pure pop.
Rock, especially hard-rock with a punk twist, had always been a matter of white people.

Living Colour challenged this. They used to play in that experimental laboratory which was the CBGB in NYC. For the first time the world saw a full black line-up playing bloody good hard-rock.

Living Colour not only showed the world that heavy rock it is not only a white people affair, they also showed the world that funk it is, indeed, a black power thing.

These two concepts together revolutionize the music scene. Their funk-metal indicated directions for some of the most successful bands of the nineties.
To name but few, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Jane’s Addiction and Primus wouldn’t have been the same without Living Colour.
If seminal is a precise adjective, this is one of the few times you can’t be wrong using it.

Vernon Reid is not only one of the 100 guitarists of all time for Rolling Stone magazine, he is the mentor of many more among which Tom Morello is probably the most obvious and most famous. His collaborations go well beyond rock and roll.
Tonight Reid with short hair and a baseball cap looks even more like Morello.
His style joins Jimi Hendrix heritage, eighties metal madness and cool it down with clever funk-jazz rhythmic out of an impressive technique. His guitar creates the Living Colour‘s sound.
Funny Vibe tonight does not only still sound a wonderful song, it is a manual of funk-metal.

Doug Wimbish is a legend to bass players more than to music fans. Pioneering slap technique, special effects and any trick you can do with four strings. So is drummer Will Culhoum able to bring ethnic rhythms into heavy drumming. He sits behind an incredibly rich drum kit.
Put the two of them next to each other you have a rhythm session able to pulse the hip-hop beats and the syncopated attitude of funk into the power drumming that metal needs.
They don’t lack showmanship either. During the show, Doug Wimbish walks off stage to play his bass among the fans, the Buddy Guy way. Will Calhoum fills a mid gig interval with a 15 minutes drum solo that keeps an audience not anymore used to solos in awe.

On top of that, I haven’t forgot Corey Glover . He still is one of the most peculiar voices and funniest man of the circus.
He did challenge the metal-singer cliché. Stop thinking of a screaming, tattooed, macho man with long, blonde hair, rethink.
Corey is the nicest of guys. With a huge sense of humour, odd suites, he loves to pull faces and make jokes with the fans. Tonight he reminds me of a kind of Louis Armstrong if Satchmo was born 60 years later. Wearing funny spectacles on his forehead and an orange overall. Despite his voice can’t reach the peaks it used to, his presence makes him one of the key ingredients of Living Colour success. He brings the fun into a hard rock concert, he brings the social awareness, he brings the black power and he reminds everyone that Elvis is dead.

When after about 2 hours of music, the riff of Cult of Personality erupts from Vernon guitar anyone in the Garage can’t help but jump.

At the climax Corey takes the microphone to the public and asks anyone to sing one of Living Colour statement statements, Elvis is Dead.
At those times, circa 1991, the song looked a direct reply to Dire Straits that were “Calling Elvis“.

Tonight the song was not on the setlist. It comes out of the blue as it was the moment for it. Throughout it, in the middle, a hard version of Hound Dog mixes things up.

“Tabloids scream
Elvis seen at a shopping mall
That’s the kind of talk
That makes my stomach crawl

Picture a zombie Elvis
In a tacky white jump suit
Just imagine a rotting Elvis
Shopping for fresh fruit

You can’t ’cause
Elvis is dead

When the king died
He was all alone
I heard that when he died
He was sitting on his throne

Alas poor Elvis
They made us know you well
Now you dwell forever
In the Heartbreak Hotel

Elvis was a hero to most
But that’s beside the point
A Black man taught him how to sing
And then he was crowned king

The pelvis of Elvis
Too dangerous for the masses

They cleaned him up and sent him to Vegas
Now the masses are his slave
Slave? Slave
Yes, even from the grave

I’ve got a reason to believe
We all won’t be received at Graceland”

[Elvis is Dead]

The concert ends here, with one (quite big) disappointment. There was an encore planned on the setlist. With Nirvana‘s In Bloom cover and Love Rears Its Ugly Head on it. Their best song. It did not happen, why? Rather sad, but also a good excuse to go seeing them again.

Pioneers, nice guys, amazing musicians, if you don’t know Living Colour you can’t wait any longer. Choose your network but connect to one of the most important bands of the latest thirty years. It’s never too late to discover from where your favourite music sprang.

[website] [myspace]

Photo Tip

I’ll keep it personal, revealing you what I think is an essential ingredient to gig photography: to love music.
It sounds banal but it has an incredible effect on the quality of your work.

Love music doesn’t mean being a die-hard fan. That doesn’t help, if you do love a band too much you get involved into the songs, start singing, moving, dancing and don’t concentrate enough.
To be interested in the music of the band you are photographing indeed helps your images.

It’s the same in any kind of photography, isn’t it?
When you notice something and decide to take a picture of it, is because that “something” transmit an emotion strong enough to induce you to click.

So why music photography shouldn’t work like this? It does.
You may argue professionals are supposed to shoot anything on a commission, they have to adapt even to subjects thay are not interested, I appreciate this.

Nevertheless if you work on something you like, it helps.

The best concert photographers I know are also music lovers. They know about music, talk about music often write about music.

Try shooting some gigs of a band after you got informed about them. Try to know in advance their music, their stage presence, the instruments they play.
Decide what kind of photos you think best represent them. Be prepared. Than get to the pit with a different attitude. Concert photography is not just about collecting photopasses.
You’ll see the improvement.

~ by Valerio on December 11, 2009.

22 Responses to “Living Colour”

  1. sounds cool.
    Great song lyrics

  2. A blast from the past… And great pics! I thought the garage would have had shitty lights but I must have been wrong!

  3. Awesome. Vernon Reid is one of my guitar idols. Great band, energy and creativity.

  4. Unique band.
    Excellent techniques and strong personality.
    Seminal (is this the English for italian “seminale”?) and leading rock development of the nineties.
    There are few great words to describe this incredible combo.
    I’m glad to read they’re still standing.
    Any italian tour?

  5. Great gig, lovely photos. You can see the love. ;D

  6. Great review and I was glad I was there as well! Can you put the set list on SongKick please!

  7. In inglese non ce la faccio proprio a rispondere, comunque capisco benissimo la sensazione, visto che anche per me i Living Colour nel ’93 (a Milano, Rolling Stone) sono stati il primo concerto vero dell’adolescenza e della vita. Sono passati da poco anche in Italia ma li ho persi. Ah, la vecchiaia :-)

  8. I enjoyed those guys back in the day. Nice post.

  9. awesome review

  10. Great review!

  11. Wow that’s quite a feedback. Thank you!

    Diamond they played 4 dates in Italy before Uk!!

    Colin I will. If you browse you get more pics and a photo of the setlist.

  12. I first heard of Living Colour back in early ’88, I saw their video “Middle Man” on a late night video show!! I went to see them at a club not long after that. I got to go back stage and talk to them they were cool I got Veron to sign my Guitar Magazine ( that I held up during the concet corey talked about it) later we went down to the down staris club and hung out some more. I still can feel the excitement!!

  13. Good blog:) Very interesting! I’ll subscribe:)
    Check out my blog? Please and thank you.. keep up blogging!

  14. Yes, fanTAStic music photography!!!!! Great shots! You brought me right there!!!!!!!

    Thanks for the Living Colour flashbacks, too!

  15. Wow, this is a great post, great pictures, fabulous blog. It is amazing to see Living Colour back together again.

  16. Love the Colour…I saw them 20 years ago, and they still kick ass with the energy of performers half their age.

  17. thanks for sharing such intense imagery!
    keep on posting things like this article!

  18. WOW! I thouroughly enjoyed the read and pics. I only know of their songs that received airplay in SoCal (where I live). I’m going to have to give their albums another listen based on what I’ve read here. I too remember my first solo concert. That would have to be at “The Troubadour” in West Hollywood when I saw “Static-X” back in ’97 before they released their debut album.

  19. hmm… I like your writing

    Hi friend, i’m indonesian. nice to meet you, if you has time please visit my blog

    see u in my ‘home’


  20. one of the most killer guitarists ever, his riffs remind me of bad brains guitarist, another great

  21. Awesome post. “Letters to a Landlord” remains one of my favorite songs of all time.

  22. hey man,

    fantastic shots.

    do you have the actual set list from the Garage you could post up? it was my birthday and i’d like to put it all together as a compilation to mark a really fantastic night. :OD

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