This is going to be a bit long, as Living Colour has, not of their own doing, been emblematic of a few problems in the industry, so bear with me. I have a few points to make, and criticism should never be solely adulation or excoriation.
For those who thought the band died after their largely successful mainstream life on Epic Records, scoring a #6, #13, and #26 chart presence respectively in a triad that resulted in artistic dissatisfactions on the fourth (an EP), this returns to the foundation. Caught in Paris in 2007, the DVD demonstrates the guys were still very much alive in their Mach 2 configuration, Doug Wimbush long ago having replaced Muzz Skillings on bass. The combo's sound is still well within its establishing trademark though the visual element has become ever more street, guerilla, though that was probably, save for appearances on TV (Montel Williams, etc.), their intent from the git. I caught them on tour with the Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels tour at the L.A. Colosseum and this was pretty much their image then. Too bad they were nearly cancelled out by a hideously bad P.A. system.
In fact, that was a curious incident. Guns and Roses shared the same P.A. with the Stones and sounded great, but Living Colour was forced to use a separate system—an odd situation in view of Mick Jagger's high regard for the band. The sound was horrible, muddy as hell, and the audience was unhappy about it, shouting to the group that the situation was unbearable. Uber-idiot-crit Dave Marsh was in the audience as well and, in an effort to save his rapidly fading dinosauric hide, fabricated a fantasy that the discontent actually derived from a sea of racists exhorting the band to get off the stage. Bullshit. He published this through Playboy magazine, and, an issue or two later, Hefner's world-famous venue published my (greatly truncated) letter refuting this. I forget what year and what months, but check it, you'll see both. Marsh then went absolutely silent on the issue and to this day refuses to discuss the matter. I'm not sure the band was much gratified at his trying to catch a shard of faux indignated glory off them either. I have to sympathize with musicians, as my fellow "critics" in non-jazz, non-classicalist venues, have been largely…well, let's say 'maladepts' and leave it at that. Check out the progrock fanboys in print and the expletives I'd otherwise indite will be obvious.
The implied Marsh ruckus, of course, was the usual crap that whites were pissed that blacks were horning in on "territory". That's always been BS, as white enthusiasm for Motown, Hendrix, Sly, Prince, and a catalogue of others readily demonstrates, but the increasingly peripheral critic had to have a controversy, so he made one up. I'll add to that this question: who does he think bought the lion's share of Living Colour's hard-rock / metal CD? Whites or blacks? He might want, then, to glom this video, as the punters are the same as those in the old Colosseum gig: overwhelmingly (here: almost exclusively) white and quite enthusiastic. So much for Marsh. From the outset, the band tears into its material for what it really is: the work of a power trio with a singer, Vernon Reid always its center. Reid's infamy, if we want to call it that, lies in his being a black metal guitarist, a rarity. Since skin color means nothing, we look then to his chops, which are formidable, but, unfortunately, hype brings us back to the disc's PR allegation: that the band could be the first and only authentic sons of Hendrix. Ridiculous. The same was tried with Eric Gales, and we see how far that got. Catching him, live at a NAMM show, I was singularly unimpressed with whatever could be said to be Jimi's spirit in him, though he was good player.
What drives such errancy? The fact that the individuals are black? Please. This is a subtle form of racism, here penned by Daniel Farhi, the producer and director of this vid, apparently fancying himself a crit. Certainly, the ensemble would never agree with it, just listen to their lyrics, especially Nova. Nor would Hendrix be approving of prepotencies like Farhi's. And what kind of opinion should one expect from the guy who made the product and will do his damnedest to sell it?
Hendrix spawned many adulants: Frank Marino, Jon Butcher, Uli Jon Roth, Robin Trower, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Gales, etc., so to say Reid might be his only heir is stultifyingly wrongheaded. Nor is Living Colour's sound all that Hendrixian, having a life of its own covering, if anything, more bases than Hendrix did. Reid's chops are highly impressive, the band's comp's innovative, and the energy nervously, angularly, jaggedly infectious. It is, in fact, Reid's adventurousness that accounts for Colour's appeal, breaking free of Metal Blade / Earache orthodoxy to open the horizons back up. Then, of course, there's Corey Glover.
Glover has always been a passionate singer, wailing his brains out to match the intensity of the decibels and emotion, but his only non-live solo release Hymns is a sadly overlooked gem. Initially an actor, now touring with a reprise of the stage play version of Jesus Christ: Superstar in a starring role opposite Ted Neeley, Glover understands the range available to a vocalist and expanded nicely in Hymns, a 1998 release. Here, he sticks mainly to his leonine role as Reid ranges all over the map, not content to play off the primal blueprint of their most fondly remembered hit, Cult of Personality. His kindredness to Hendrix is best seen in this wont, ever exploratory, never satisfied to trot out the expected.
Doug Wimbush, beside him, doesn't just ply a five-string bass axe, he also supplies much broader ambience and colorations than is customary to many guitarists, utilizing pedals and outboards to throw in bizarre and complementary ornaments while drummer Will Calhoun blazes away on the skins. There are flaws—Glover's occasional hyper-falsetto rarely works, Reid's vocals are pedestrian at best, some of Wimbush's choices in palette are mystifying, and Calhoun could do with a little more bottomwork, relying a bit much on the upper register of his kit—but the 107 minutes here are very satisfying, filled with pyrotechnics, a couple of covers, and a lot of rock and roll hellaciousness. Live in Paris embodies what I've always claimed is a concert DVD's main virtue: the ability to see groups for under $20, rather then the usual (ignoring scalpers for the moment) $75 - $350, and to repeat the experience at will. In the present economy, that alone should speak loudly to the audience, but that there is finally a full-form vid release should shoulder even that aside and create enthusiasm through its very existence.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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