Living Colour at the Plaza
I haven’t listened to Living Colour in years.
But sometimes all it takes to revive interest in a band is an awesome concert, and on Wednesday Living Colour kicked off the summer music series at Empire State Plaza with a high-energy, awe-inspiring set that made me want to go home and revisit their music.
It’s been over 25 years since Living Colour burst onto the scene with “Vivid,” and the band has not lost a step, with songs such as “Cult of Personality” and “Middle Man” sounding just as vital, confrontational and politically charged as they did when I was in middle school. How is this possible?
Living Colour has always defied easy categorization, playing an exciting brew of heavy metal, punk and funk; on the band’s underrated 1993 album “Stain,” they veered into more experimental territory.
The concert at the Plaza showcased the band’s musicianship and songwriting, which is formidable, as well as their diverse mix of influences. One of the show’s highlights came early on, when a soaring rendition of “Amazing Grace” segued into “Open Letter (To a Landlord),” a blistering, heartfelt song about the dark side of gentrification and development. (Sample lyrics: “Last month there was a fire/I saw seven children die/You sent flowers to their families/But your sympathy’s a lie/’Cause every building that you burn/Is more blood money that you earn.”)
Living Colour also played some excellent covers. My favorite was “Kick Out the Jams,” by the seminal Detroit garage rock band the MC5, but I’m sure other people have their favorites, as the band also played a catchy, slink version of James Brown’s “Sex Machine” and a fist-pumping, foot-stomping version of “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash.
The band’s musicianship was always impressive — guitarist Vernon Reid is widely regarded as a virtuoso, and Corey Glover’s powerful vocals were undimmed by age. At times, the music got a little too jammy for my taste, bogged down by lengthy solos and instrumentals, although I really enjoyed drummer Will Calhoun’s jazz and electronica-tinged solo toward the end.
“Living Colour” was an interesting choice for a free concert at the Plaza — a bit harder and heavier and louder than the acts usually selected to play there. But for me they were a refreshing change of pace — a legendary band due for rediscovery and renewed respect.
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