Twenty years ago a 17-year-old me saw Living Colour in the Glasgow Barrowlands. It was their ‘Stain’ tour and I’d already been a fan for many years; though I’d never seen them.
As impressionable as I was at that age I couldn’t help think they were fantastic. Corey Glover’s vocal, Vernon Reid’s guitar playing, and Doug Wimbish’s bass. Did I mention Will Calhoun yet? Hell there was just such an impressive array of musicians on that stage. A few years past, and the band split up. I honestly thought I’d never see them again.
Twenty years later (almost to the day) and the band (who reformed several years back) are playing the city for the first time since that ‘Stain’ show. This time around they are playing their debut album Vivid in its entirety. How are they going to sound? Can they be as good as the wet behind the ears me, thought they were back then? What has changed?
This time the band is playing the somewhat smaller Glasgow Garage. At a little over 8:45 the band hit the stage and stumble into an unfamiliar groove which seems to play and play and play, not really going anywhere. It did feel like an intro-jam at first, but after close to ten minutes the crowd are a bit restless. The sound is good, Corey’s vocal is as impressive as ever, but (as it turns out) this Robert Johnson cover just isn’t cutting it with the crowd. The song finished to over-zealous applause and the band say “Hi!” and start the next track.
Yet again, unknown music begins. This time around it is Jimi Hendrix Experience’s ‘Power of Soul’. More time passes, and those of us familiar with the venue’s strict curfew are starting to worry already; it is now after 9 and by normal standards gigs in here have to finish by 10pm! I thought Vivid was getting played tonight?
Without much time for worry it is after those two tracks that Corey properly addresses the crowd telling us that it was 25 years ago that Vivid was released. “That means that we’re old. Of course it also means that they are older! Tonight we will play the album in its entirety.” Someone in the crowd shouts “Get the spandex out!!” – a reference to the band’s choice of attire when the album was originally released. Corey replies, “That’s how I know it’s older. As I’m not stupid enough to put that shit back on!” No sooner had he said the words, or had the very loud cheer risen and we get to hear the words of Malcolm X, “. . . And during the few moments that we have left, . . . ” The venue explodes to the guitar riff which follows!
For the next hour and a bit we are treated to the album sounding fresher than I ever remember it being. The musicianship is amazing, the vocals stunning – the talent in this band is unbelievably good. Highlights include Corey Glover singing ‘Amazing Grace’ before a rousing, crowd-participation version of ‘Open Letter (To A Landlord)’ and ‘Funny Vibe’ including a snippet of Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power’.
As we move through the track list Vernon tells us that the next song is about the same girl as ‘Love Rears It’s Ugly Head’ was written about. Except this was written first about the end of the relationship, you know, in a sort of “Tarantino order”. That song was ‘Broken Hearts’.
‘Which Way To America?’ goes on for a good 10-15 minutes with an extended interlude about getting a VCR and taking a Casio watch from an audience member. Given they were already over curfew (10:30 tonight), with someone at the side of the stage making wild gestures to them to wrap it up, it’s a miracle they were allowed back onstage to play an encore.
The encore (after a weird jam moment which included Doug playing an electric “stick”) was of course ‘Love Rears It’s Ugly Head’. Then it was all over with Corey saying, “It might not be what you remember but we don’t remember much either!!!”
The set list for the night included four more songs, ‘Leave It Alone’, ‘Bi’, ‘Go Away’ (all from Stain), and ‘Time’s Up’ from their second album of the same name. Of course with a venue that has such a strict curfew, the time needed to play these songs was wasted with a set which included two cover songs at the start (especially when they seemed so at odds with the rest of the show) and a number of extended jam-versions of songs. Don’t get me wrong, the jams were superb and if the band enjoys playing covers then great, but when time was against them from the outset they seemed entirely superfluous inclusions.
Whilst having to drop four of their own songs from the set in favour of two (misplaced?) covers at the start shouldn’t detract from how amazing this band sounded tonight. Better than in 1993 – my 17 year-old self did recognise talent when it saw it, it seems – and Vivid is a fantastic album to hear live. The band said they would be back again, and I do hope they come back and get to play whatever full set list they wanted to, and not being curtailed by venue curfews.
The lasting thoughts though are that they were even better this time around, and has it really been 25 years!?