Living Colour @ The Astor Theatre
Friday, May 19, 2017
It was suitably bleak weather to head out into on Friday night, with the recent news sinking into our souls that Chris Cornell had tragically passed on. They were the words on most people’s lips that had gathered at the Astor, given we were excited to witness an original Lollapalooza-era band, finally, at their own headlining show in an aesthetically pleasing venue.
Living Colour were a part of the mainstream rock image of America in the late 80s/ early 90’s. But they were more than that to those who bought their albums. They incorporated excellent musicianship into their rock, worthy of their endorsements and accolades, without sacrificing the ability to write a great song. Tonight’s set hit the highlights of their strong early output, and the warm reception they received at their set’s commencement indicated the buzz of anticipation was high among those gathered.
The spotlight shone for guitarist Vernon Reid, gently throwing out a dirty swamp slide-guitar verse, the band following in slow time. Corey Glover warmed his voice to Preaching Blues, a brave and fitting opener from their upcoming album, Shade. Wall, Desperate People and Middle Man came out in breathless succession, reaffirming that we were indeed in for some of that good stuff. Wizardry or Mastery? Perhaps a combination of both. This display was very clearly meeting the expectations we all came with. Over the years, I’ve observed various member’s tuition clinics, twice saw Jungle Funk (Calhoun and Wimbish) and caught them at Soundwave a few years back. Tonight all the parts of the machine were together, working in front of us – throwing out their singalongs with absolute fervor and discipline.
Reid broke stride to address the shock and sadness everyone was feeling concerning Chris Cornell. The band followed into a striking tribute, playing an oracle Soundgarden tune, Blow Up the Outside World. It was powerful, and potent in their delivery. We appreciated the perspective, and it brought a warm and fibrous connection between the audience and performers.
The ascending/descending funk-play between the rhythm section on Mind Your Own Business and Stain-era classic Ignorance Is Bliss brought us to a place where we were comfortable to hear a couple of new tracks from Shade. It seemed nothing was lost on their journey to here. With the simple mono-syllabic statement, “Women,” Corey Glover introduced signature tune Love Rears Its Ugly Head. Played with all of the candour a smash hit song deserved, the song resonated as the set’s highlight.
When it was time for Wimbish and Calhoun to display some chops, respectively, we weren’t expecting anything less than the passages we received. Wizardry or mastery? I would say the latter, skating occasionally into the former. Special mention to Will Calhoun’s use of glow drum sticks with the house lights off during his solo. Hectic-as drummer.
With special mention to the current POTUS, the opening strains of Cult of Personality were warmly welcomed. Great song, it still reminds me of the TV commercial for Nutri-Grain some decades ago. Another swaying shout-aloud hit song, and sing along we did. Isn’t it funny how some music addressing current affairs can be so relevant from one generation to the next?
A three song encore was delivered before the house lights came up, with rapturous applause coming from the crowd that stayed. People who didn’t head home were received by the band members in the front foyer of the venue. Happy to chat and sign autographs for fans. Indeed, the ephemera of tonight’s show was not restricted to just the audience.
Photos by Elspeth Erickson Photography