By Laina Dawes, Photos courtesy of Bruce Lee
I can’t help it – sometimes I need a little funk with my metal. In a scene where it is more acceptable to bang your head or pump your fist in the air than it is to shake your bee-hind and ‘dip it low’ to the rhythm, I was really looking forward to seeing Living Colour at Lees Palace in Toronto last Saturday. I was also looking forward to not being the only fly in the buttermilk – if you get my drift.
Supporting their most recent effort, Chair in the Doorway, fans – despite the lack of media attention to the 20+ year-old band’s tour stop in the T-dot – many came out to celebrate their first album in six years. What was really cool is who came out: The majority of the multi-racial audience had gray hair – the ones who actually remembered when the New York-based rock, funk and metal band hit their airwaves in 1988 with “Cult of Personality.”
While many of you might not care about this little tidbit of information but my friend spotted ex Much Music VJ Michael Williams chilling backstage. Williams was the first black VJ at the station and was single-handedly responsible for bringing black rock bands to Canadian audiences. If it wasn’t for him and his show, Soul in the City, good chances we wouldn’t have ever seen Living Colour, Fishbone, 24-7 Spyz, Mother’s Finest and The Family Stand – all black rock / punk / metal/ soul bands that despite their limited visibility, were extremely important to show to both black and white (and all in between) audiences that yes, Negroes could rock – and perform music outside of R&B and Rap.
Starting off with some oldies but goodies, such as “Pride” from 1990’s Time’s Up, “The Glamour Boys” and “Open Letter to a Landlord” (which was quite ironic, since the venue was located in the rapidly gentrifying Annex) from ‘88’s Vivid, the crowd was treated to a lengthy bass solo from Doug Wimbush who jumped into the crowd and soloed, circled by a bunch of screaming fans. Soon after we were treated to an even longer solo from drummer Will Calhoun, his canary-yellow drum kit resplendent with fluorescent-ringed cymbals.
Every song contained solo opportunities for legendary guitarist Vernon Reid, finger-picking and riffing like a motherfucker. In hindsight, watching them was actually interesting exercise, simply because all four musicians – celebrated outside of the band as top-notch musicians, all seemed to be on the same musical wavelength. There was no jockeying for the spotlight, no unnecessary flourishes in order to make one stand out more than the other. But Reid could shred just as well -if not better – than any of the young stalwarts in contemporary metal bands.
While their newer stuff might not have the ragged edges that earlier tracks like “Time’s Up” have (which, heavy and hardcore as fuck, drove the crowd totally nuts), their new album contains the mid-tempo 80’s New York punk-influenced “Burned Bridges,” “The Chair,” and “Behind the Sun” and it was obvious that these dudes, most likely in their late forties / fifties, are not planning to mellow with age or choose to go more contemporary to get some radio love.
I was tempted to start this review by simply saying, “This show was fucking awesome,” but it was much more than that. You had four top-notch musicians on that stage, including singer and leather aproned-wearing Corey Glover (whom if you haven’t heard this man sing, and sing so passionately yet so effortlessly, you are sorely missing out on a genius) and I wonder, why aren’t these dudes being recognized? If not in record sales, for their sheer genius? For actually knowing how to put a song together? But in some ways, it is the same sentiment when I heard the new albums from Suffocation, Lord Mantis and Kylesa this year.
It’s the same sentiment I think when I delve back and listen to an old Fishbone album. Living Colour can play like you wouldn’t believe, mixing funk, soul, punk and metal into such a glorious mélange of gooey goodness, you would think that these genres naturally belonged together – and if you choose to do a bit of musical history, you will find that if not musically, philosophically, they do. But because the general public doesn’t seem to have the patience for anything outside the box – especially four middle-aged brothas who can play metal and punk – it seems like a miracle that the quartet has continued to play live, and thrive.
Did the crowd get what they are singing? Lyrics that challenged racism, sexism, classism and gentrification? Who knows. I have to say that while I had to blackmail my homegirl into coming with me, she had a great time but wondered, in this age of racial tension, not only in the US but here, how a band could bring out a multi-cultural and multi-racial audience into socializing and simply enjoying themselves – and each other for one night. Maybe just one night. I couldn’t help but wonder that too. Regardless of why they were there, the audience lapped it up and for the first time in a long time I actually remembered a few of the reasons why I love this city.