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Saturday, October 18, 2008

CD Review: Living Colour - CBGB's The Bowery Collection: Live, August 19, 2005

Living Colour - CBGB's The Bowery Collection: Live, August 19, 2005
2008 MVD Audio
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Living Colour was one of those few bands that could stop me dead in my tracks whenever they were doing something, and though I can't prove it, I'm 50% certain my wife and I stayed at the same hotel as Corey Glover in New York the year this was recording was taken and we (possibly) ran into the man and his significant other in a mutually fruitless effort to find a cab. Forget trying to find a cab in NYC on St. Patty's Weekend, folks, words to live by... We made eye contact longer than you normally might with people on the street and like the time I made eye contact with Chuck Billy of Testament in Virginia (that was valid since I was waiting in his hotel to interview Greg Christian and Alex Skolnick), there was this "Hi there, glad you recognize me, but please don't bust me" look to both men's eyes. If that wasn't Corey, the yuk's on me, but I was again stopped in my tracks, literally this time.

Prior to that, I'd seen Living Colour live in 1990 on their Time's Up tour, and what really socked me out about them was how much improv they threw into their performance, so much that familiar songs took on new life. I recall "I Want to Know" and "Desperate People" being played mostly to script, but even the newer material Living Colour was debuting in that show was jacked up, sonically-explosive and guttural to the point Corey Glover bellowed his guts out and Vernon Reid crushed more strums-per-second than perhaps anyone I've ever seen in a live capacity. Then-bassist Muzz Skillings was a mad dog on bass and drummer Will Calhoun smashed his skins as if under a clinical microscope and being given marks thereafter.

Toss in a few Bad Brains covers scattered through their set including "Sailin' On," which sent a tidal wave of approving roars throughout the crowd, and Living Colour put on one of the most devastating sets I personally have ever seen. Only Sonic Youth managed to outdo their cerebral electricity spewage and aural territorial coverage, and one of the lasting images I had of Living Colour was that they were meant for the stage. It's a damn shame they cashed their chips in ahead of their time with a decade's layoff before reuniting earlier in the new milennium.

Although there's already a Living Colour CBGB's recording in existence (Live at CBGB's Tuesday 12/19/89), it's great to have a second visit with the anti-glamour boys circa 2005, if for nothing else to hear what Living Colour still has to give at this point. The answer to that is a heck of a lot, since CBGB's The Bowery Collection: Live, August 19, 2005 is simply massive, almost too much for the deceased rock hub to contain.

The idiom "blowing the roof off" is used so often in describing music performances, but honestly, Living Colour blew that damned club at least to a few new plaster cracks. The audio capturing this excitable concert certainly took a beating because Living Colour simply goes berserk in CBGB's right on the first step of the almost double-timed "Type," to where Living Colour is so adrenalized to kick this show into gear they lose the core tempo of the song, instead opting to just ride the vibe. They slide back long enough into calypso grooves on the bridges, while Corey Glover recites the choruses instead of sings, as if giving his audience a more dramatic, open-mike delivery for them to savor. The cheeky part to this is right after Vernon Reid sends waves of guitar frizzle fry just through one song, the energy level is so amped Glover tells everyone "I'm getting too old for this!"

Perhaps he's right since a Living Colour gig isn't your prototype entertainment show. They hoist all of the influences that made Vivid a veritible classic such as jazz, funk, metal and punk, and they run like hell with it, shooting strictly from the hip from song-to-song. How they've managed to stay healthy and still passionate in their delivery is remarkable considering the complicated and wonderfully noisome din (most cats couldn't pull a song like "Time's Up" so long after it was recorded, but Living Colour nails the shit to a cross) they're required to reproduce onstage. It wouldn't be surprising if these guys never truly duplicated a performance because this one alone is instinctual and painfully loud. Painful as in gimme more painful.

Even as Living Colour tinkers and dallies with sample loops, sequencers, jam splashes and daydreamish scats between songs (even teasing the audience with a fake intro sample for "Love Rears Its Ugly Head" before vaulting into the punishing "Ignorance is Bliss" -- the former song makes its appearance afterwards, fret not) the time biding may wear slightly thin, but all of it is anticipatory for the next eruption yet to come and the one thereafter.

Corey Glover seizes the opportunity to chat randomly with the crowd and dote all over the importance of CBGB's in its day, at one point issuing the sadly incorrect exclamation "CBGB's will never die!" in closure of the set. It's almost poetry to hear him thank the late Hilly Kristal for giving Living Colour one of their first places to play while noting the already-exposed fate of the club in 2005, then begin his soulful solo wails leading into "Open Letter to a Landlord." The fact he starts giggling in the midst of his expelled nostalgia and then says "You know the fucking song, we can leave, fuck it!" before Living Colour hammers out "Landlord" poignantly creates its own endearment. Likely those who were in attendence this night won't ever forget this moment. In the grand perspective of rock history, the gesture is minimal, but for the sake of CBGB's, it might rank along with the early halcyon eighties performances by the Ramones, Talking Heads and Patti Smith, particularly when Glover lets the crowd sing "Landlord's" choruses; for once, said interaction comes off natural instead of fabricated.

On this performance, Living Colour whisks out a couple of tunes from their last studio album Kaleidoscope, "In Your Name" and "Sacred Ground," the latter of which is likewise used in tributory fashion to the club. Otherwise, expect a generous heaping of Vivid tunes with "Middle Man," "Funny Vibe," "Glamour Boys" and of course their signature "Cult of Personality," the latter of which is one of the most booming and uplifting set closers you'll ever hear.

Never ones to avoid causing a ruckus, they dedicate "Terrorism" to GW Bush and Tony Blair, playing the drawn, hypnotic opening licks in the way Killing Joke and The Exploited probably would before the song pounds aggressively to finish with oodles of sonic grandeur extolled from Vernon Reid. Brutal, yet funky, with a return to the platform these guys never should've have abandoned. Just hearing Corey Glover whisper "I don't want my babies living with terrorism" says it all...

That's the exact point to Living Colour in the 2000s. They're family men with plenty of road mileage behind them--even with a long hiatus--but push comes to shove, these guys were the embodiment of a heavy rock porridge with dashes of Bob Marley, Bad Brains and Curtis Mayfield. A little shaky in spots of their otherwise brilliant career, Living Colour's relevance alone is the reason to pick up CBGB's The Bowery Collection: Live, August 19, 2005. All it needed was "Elvis is Dead" to make it one for the ages.

Rating: ****


Metal Mark said...

I was hoping for more horror movie DVD reviews.

Anonymous said...

Great Review! I was at this show and it was jam packed! Too bad they didn't release the entire show!!!!
They seem to be writing and recording (as well as on tour in Europe right now...) as stated on their myspace page :

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Mark, blame the viewing time is getting slashed, pun intended....might squeeze one in tonight, though

Anon, many thanks brother or sister...glad to hear someone testify to being there, and I'm of course thrilled to pieces they're working on new stuff. Thanks for reading!