Reunited and ready to rock
Living Colour returns, with plenty on their minds
By KEN CAPOBIANCO
For the members of Living Colour, it wasn't a matter of when they were going to get back together; it was a matter of why they should.
After nearly 10 years apart, singer Corey Glover, bassist Doug Wimbish, guitarist Vernon Reid and drummer Will Calhoun began to realize that they thrived as a group. But they didn't want to regroup one of hard rock's most vital bands merely to make money or to relive old glories. They had to have a purpose.
"We really felt that our search was to find something to say," says Glover from his home in New York. "We wanted to look at what has been happening in the world and in rock music and come out with a record that meant something and addressed the state of things as we saw them.
"The four of us spent one and a half years recording and writing the new record. We wanted to put out something that didn't sound like anything else and talk about issues no one else seems to be talking about."
That record is "Collideoscope" (released by Sanctuary Records), a dazzling, diverse set of songs that digs deeply into Living Colour's past while sending the band into directions it hasn't traveled before. The big rock riffs are in place - wait until you hear some of the things Reid pulls out of his bag of tricks - but they delve into funk, soul, fusion and metal without losing focus.
It's clear that the time apart gave them a better sense of space and there's much less overkill here than on some of their earlier records like "Vivid" or "Time's Up." The music breathes, there's nuance and the arrangements are less unwieldly.
The lyrics are as socially conscious as ever and they are clearly marked by a post-9/11 consciousness as the band addresses media manipulation, government surveillance, paranoia, global unrest and military misdeeds, as well as Native American rights and a Bush-whacked economy. One song, "Flying," is a personal account of one man's leap from the World Trade Center on that tragic September day two years ago.
But it isn't all hand-wringing angst. There is also an explosive cover of "Back in Black" (pun fully intended) as well as an evocative take on the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows."
"The songs simply address the world as we know it at this point," says Glover. "It really would be a lot easier on us all if we just saw the world for what it is and made decisions that are informed and fully conscious. What we wanted to do was to take things from the macro and into the micro. We watch CNN every day, but we are so bombarded by images and words that we don't process things completely.
"Here, we wanted to slow things down and look at issues on both the political and human level. That's why there's the song 'Flying' on the record, because it is a personal story about one of the most tragic moments in our lifetime. But we couldn't look at 9/11 as an event. It's too great, beyond us all. There was this tragedy, we gave it a catchphrase and we saw all the surrounding elements. But it was something that happened to real people and altered lives completely. Here, by personalizing it, you get a different perspective."
A 'Vivid' beginning
Living Colour burst onto the hard rock scene in 1988 with their record "Vivid." They were the first black rock band to move into the mainstream with commercial success and invaded rock radio with the hits "Cult of Personality" and "Glamour Boys." They fused the breakneck punk/metal of influences like Bad Brains with the plundering stomp of Led Zeppelin and a funk underbelly of Sly Stone.
They found themselves selling out large concert halls and opening up for the Rolling Stones. For eight years they toured and made some good records ("Time's Up") and some weak ones ("Stain"). After Lollapaloooza ' 91, they replaced original bassist Muzz Skillings with Wimbish, who leaned the band into a more jazzy direction.
But in 1994, they decided to quit as a group, apparently having said what they needed to and desiring to go in different directions.
"We had to figure out what we wanted," says Glover. "At the time, being a band, wasn't one of those things."
One of the elements that led to the band's demise was creative tension, a dynamic Glover says is still there.
"It's a relationship," he says. "The things I don't like about Will Calhoun and Doug Wimbish are the things I love about Will Calhoun and Doug Wimbish. Vernon Reid is playing his life, his pain, his joys. I have to understand them and work with them and only by taking the good with the bad can we come to an understanding. It also heightens our creativity and gives us the electricity and that's something that was easy for us to recapture immediately."
Ten years is a long time in rock and the musical climate has shifted many times since the band split, but Glover says that what Living Colour does should not be limited by what seems to be popular at the moment.
"We will never sell as many records as we once did. We know that, but that doesn't concern us. You know we're not nu-metal, funk, rap/metal whatever that has been popular over the last decade. We are a rock band; take us as we are. That we do a whole bunch of styles and love to experiment - expect that.
"But when push comes to shove, bottom line, Living Colour is a rock band and we think that we're pretty good at being just that."
In Concert :
Who: Living Colour and King Crimson
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Avalon, 15 Lansdowne St., Boston
Daily Camera preview for Fillmore Auditorium
Groundbreaking act is 'back in black'
By Matt Sebastian, Camera Music Writer
October 31, 2003
When Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" exploded all over MTV in 1988, the hard-rocking quartet generated as much buzz for its racial makeup as it did for virtuoso guitarist Vernon Reid's ear-shredding riffs.
At the time, the band was viewed as such an oddity — black men trying to barge into the lily-white world of hard rock — that the music industry had trouble categorizing Living Colour. While primarily a straight-on rock act, the band often was labeled "alternative"; not only did Living Colour open for the Rolling Stones, it also helped lead the alt-rock revolution on the inaugural Lollapalooza tour.
Fifteen years have passed since Living Colour's debut, a span that saw the group record two more albums, disband, then reform in late 2000. And yet the members of Living Colour — who open for King Crimson on Wednesday at the Fillmore Auditorium — know that some things haven't changed: They're still the odd men out in a highly segregated hard-rock scene.
"Well, you know, we're still abnormal after all these years," jokes Reid from his Staten Island home. "But I think it's great. We are a reminder, and we represent a true alternative and hidden history of rock 'n' roll, which includes Arthur Lee and Love, which includes Automatic Man and Mother Night, which includes the Basement 5 ... in the timeline of rock, so much is not included.
"To me," Reid adds, "the Isley Brothers are as important a rock 'n' roll band as an R&B band. They're as important, in my mind, as the Rolling Stones and the Who. Maybe that's revisionist, but my timeline is not the recognized, whitewashed timeline of rock 'n' roll."
Despite its initial success, Living Colour likely will remain a part of that underground history of rock. The band's first album in a decade, CollideOscope, is more akin to 1993's dark Stain than the band's first two albums, which have a lighter sound. Reid and his cohorts aren't trying to recreate the poppy sounds of past hits like "Glamour Boys" and "Love Rears Its Ugly Head."
Reid describes the sometimes grim CollideOscope as "about being an American in these days and times." The record clearly is influenced by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which hit home for Reid, who watched the World Trade Center's twin towers burn, and, particularly, for singer Corey Glover, who watched live news coverage of the tragedy from an airplane seat while his flight into New York City that morning was diverted.
"CollideOscope talks about — sometimes in a broad-brush kind of way, like with the song 'Operation: Mind Control' — how the debate about freedom in this country has been commandeered by the right wing," Reid says. "Even the material that was written before Sept. 11 seems to address that. 'A ? of When' was written before Sept. 11, but after afterward, it seemed like it suddenly took on this whole other meaning, you know, it goes 'Who will be next/Who will it be.' Kind of a philosophical thing."
Musically, the band is as diverse as ever, dabbling in crushing hard-rock, dub, slight electronica, quasi-industrial sounds and, on the most obvious Sept. 11 song, "Flying" (a deceptively lighthearted tune about someone who leaped to his death from the twin towers), light, soulful funk. There even are a couple of unexpected covers, AC/DC's "Back in Black" and the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows."
"'Back in Black' feels really odd where it is on this record," Reid says, "but, if you think about it, it's really just a different way of looking at that unfailing optimism that animates the American spirit. It's saying, 'This thing can't be killed.'"
The band reunited in late 2000, after five years apart, when Reid sat in with Headfake, a band comprised of Glover and Living Colour's rhythm section, bassist Doug Wimbish — who replaced founding member Muzz Skillings in 1992 — and drummer Will Calhoun.
"Enough time had passed to let the old wounds heal," Reid says, although he admits that the first reunion show, at CBGB's in New York, as well as a 2001 club tour, "had really great moments, and moments of 'What the hell am I doing here?'"
"Breaking up a band is not something you do lightly," Reid says. "It's like when you hear about a divorce and they say, 'Oh, it's amicable,' nudge-nudge, wink-wink. There's always a lot of bruised egos and feelings, but we've worked that out now.
"When people see the four of us on stage now, they should know that each one of us is really taking it on, and is being responsible," Reid adds. "It's not just happening to be happening. I'd refuse to be a part of that, you know, to do it just for the sake of doing it.
"If there's nothing to say, there's not point in doing this. Obviously, we've still got things to say."
Contact Matt Sebastian at (303) 473-1498 or email@example.com
Get Ready To Rock Review - Living Colour Collideoscope
can recall seeing Living Colour on what must have been their first tour of the UK in the late eighties, supporting Dan Reed Network. Now Dan and his men were shit-hot but Living Colour damn near blew them away in best time-honoured support-good-as-headliner tradition. Poor Dan.
I bought the band's highly rated second album but in truth never really played it once the initial euphoria wore off. Now, after a ten year lay-off, the band are back and I sense this new album might similarly be consigned to the "great-when-first-heard, never-listened-to-later category".
You see Living Colour are a fine contemporary funk rock metal band and in a post 9/11 situation they have plenty to say, always being the more politically aware amongst their peers. But in truth a lot of CollideØscope is recycled classic rock material with a metal edge. Imagine what Cream would have sounded like with a political conscience and computers and you get Living Colour. And on the new album this feeling is confirmed by two covers: the classic AC/DC 'Back In Black' and The Beatles 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. The standout slowie on the album "Flying' also steals Bowie's riff on 'Ashes To Ashes'.
Vernon Reid is already feted as one of the guitar innovators and there are some wonderful off-the-wall sounds on this album. 'Lost Halo', 'Pocket Of Tears' and 'Sacred Ground' are standouts. Metal and hard rock fans should lap this up.
Review by David Randall