For The Prague Post
December 13th, 2006
f Living Colour were placed in a time machine and taken back to the slick mid-1960s, it's unlikely the band would make it past the reception desk at Barry Gordy's Motown offices. Sure, they're African-American musicians. But, even if they charmed their way inside, when they started wheeling in multiple stacks of Marshall amplifiers, security would be quick to evict them.
No matter. By the time the infectious guitar riff of their first hit, "Cult of Personality," was racing up the charts and positioning them for their first Grammy, this New York City band had clearly dispelled the notion of metal-flavored rock being a strictly suburban, lily-white party. And, in other respects, Living Colour was part of an effort every bit as groundbreaking as Gordy's Motown label.
The band started out as part of a New York City community known as the Black Rock Coalition, the aims of which included breaking down racial barriers in the music industry. According to William Calhoun, one of the founding members of Living Colour, this effort pulled together "some great talented people who were ready for a change ... musicians, lawyers, radio station DJs, club owners and journalists."
In the case of Living Colour, the various iterations of the band since then have echoed worldwide, from Mick Jagger's catwalk prance to Pharoah Sanders' wizened jazz gaze. Riding the brief wave of the band's late-'80s and early-'90s mainstream splash, Living Colour's members have ventured into extracurricular projects as diverse as film, experimental rock, world music and jazz.
Guitarist Vernon Reid has produced records for Salif Keita and James Blood Ulmer while also taking his rightful place working alongside Carlos Santana and Jack Bruce. Reid has also split his time fronting a band he calls Mistaken Identity while doing film soundtrack work.
Lead singer Corey Glover recorded the eclectic solo CD Hymns in 1998 and pursued an acting career that recently found him cast as Judas in a stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Bassist Doug Wimbish has been busy in London with the experimental dub champions Tackhead, while lending his journeyman bass-playing skills to latter-day recordings of the Rolling Stones.
Meanwhile, drummer Calhoun has been jamming with virtual reality inventor Jaron Lanier on high-tech video, and driving around the outback of Morocco looking for new sights and sounds. In 2005 Calhoun put away his traveling shoes and settled into Ornette Coleman's Harmolodic studios long enough to gather Pharoah Sanders, Mos Def, Naná Vasconcelos and others to extend the jazz tradition on his solo CD Native Lands (on Germany's Enja label).
Asked what effect all this divergent activity will have on the band's live performances, Calhoun says, "It has created a wider sonic vision for Living Colour. We have more colors to add to our existing sonic colors." Onstage now, he says, the band is "experimenting with rock, electronics, ambience, grooves and indigenous sounds."
Still, fans looking forward to singing along with some of their old favorites are likely to find plenty of recognizable hooks among the surprises. "We like to perform our material with an open mind, [but] we don't want to misrepresent the songs," Calhoun says. "However, we do improvise on the tempo, chord changes, melodies and arrangements."
A good indication of what the upcoming Prague performance will sound like seems to fall somewhere between the band's trip-metal read of the Beatles' "Tommorrow Never Knows" on its most recent studio CD, Cøllideoscope, and the lightning set on the 2005 release Live at CBGB's, recorded at New York City's recently closed temple of punk in December 1989.
Together or apart, through all the exciting hits and even more inspiring misses, Living Colour's ongoing priority will likely remain what Calhoun describes as "to create honest music that inspires us all. Everything else will happen after we are inspired."
Darrell Jónsson can be reached at email@example.com
When: Dec. 18 at 8
Where: Retro Music Hall
Tickets: 550 Kč (till Dec. 17), 600 Kč (on Dec. 18) through Ticketpro, Ticketstream and Ticketportal; 660 Kč at the door