Living Colour/Stone Broken – Bilston, The Robin 2 – 27 September 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Sunday, 08 October 2017 09:42

The odds definitely aren’t in Living Colour’s favour tonight. Not only is it a Wednesday (traditionally a terrible night for gig attendance), but outside is a deluge of September suck, the already-murky streets of Bilston blasted with some of the most miserable weather Britain has to offer. And it doesn’t matter one damn bit.


Stone Broken 3

In the Robin 2, Bilston’s premier (and only) rhythm ‘n’ blues venue, the walls are already heaving with a massive crowd gathered for tonight’s show by 80s funk rock heroes Living Colour. First up though, are local up-and-comers Stone Broken. Hailing from Walsall and heavily invested in the American radio rock sound (Black Stone Cherry, Creed, Nickelback; you know the type), Stone Broken have seemingly gone from strength to strength over the past twelve months, landing lucrative gig spots up and down the country and earning some positive press across the board. Playing to a full room, one thing quickly becomes clear; Stone Broken aren’t just a support band tonight, they are a cherished local talent in these classic rock circles.


While their sound is by no means a reinvention of the wheel, they stick to it with a dedication which is repaid by sing-alongs in the crowd and a hardcore contingent congregating directly in front of the stage. Thriving on the energy of the crowd, Stone Broken pull out a strong no-frills rock show which serves as a more-than-suitable warm-up for the evening’s rocking, the slightly predictable nature of their music proving to be a great strength as big choruses are belted out both on and off stage.


Living Colour 3

By stark contrast, Living Colour are anything but predictable. Formed in the 80s and a direct influence on future trailblazers like Rage Against The Machine, Living Colour’s sound draws on everything from funk to rock n roll, rhythm n blues to glam. Opening with a cover of ‘Preachin’ Blues’ by legendary bluesman Robert Johnson (with a recorded version featured on their latest album ‘Shade’), the band come out firing on all cylinders, each member greeted with a roar of approval as they take to the stage.


And why wouldn’t they be? Each of the four members of Living Colour is a tour de force in his own right, the group locking together in such a way that they become more than the sum of their (individually impressive) parts. Each song is a showcase for the superb talents in-house, the band doing their level best to steal the spotlight without ever coming across as showboating or egotistical. Between the syrup-thick basslines of Doug Wimbish and the instantly electrifying riffs of Vernon Reid the ears are taken on a constant tour of delights, powered along by the steady but inventive drum heartbeat of Will Calhoun, tied together by world heavyweight champion of frontmen everywhere Corey Glover.


As if the music alone isn’t enough to win you on side, the lyrics of Living Colour possess the kind of social and political consciousness that makes bands like Rage Against The Machine or Stray From The Path seem like weekend volunteers. Lyrics to the likes of ‘Wall’ highlighting social and racial inequality in a way that doesn’t pull any punches but never feels preachy or self-righteous. That’s the thing about Living Colour, though. They aren’t self-righteous, because the band are so righteous without having to highlight the fact, their songs appealing to common sense, love and unity without losing any of their mainstream appeal – U2 eat your hearts out.


Living Colour 1

Loading their set with massive classics like ‘Middle Man’ and ‘Desperate People’ esures that sing-alongs are plentiful throughout the set, while choice new cuts like the band’s cover of Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Who Shot Ya’ or the blues-heavy guitar slinging ‘Who’s That’ show that the band have plenty of brilliance left in them yet. Glover is mater of ceremonies for the evening, his stunning vocal backed up by a whip-quick wit and a level of passion for showmanship which comes across as nothing less than inspirational. Inspirational is a word which could come up a lot when talking Living Colour. Great as it is to hear the band utterly smash the likes of ‘Open Letter (To a Landlord)’ or ‘Love Rears Its Ugly Head’, new songs like ‘Come On’ still evoke that same level of excitement and fun from the band, setting bodies moving to the enormous sense of groove that the band inspire.


The appearance of ‘Open Letter’ in the set has particular poignance, its story of urban decay and scrupulous decisions regarding the socially inferior striking a recognisable chord in the wake of events like Grenfell, living proof that such narratives are by no means a thing of the past. And that’s just it – the message of Living Colour’s song still rings true today, almost 30 years on from the band’s first release the songs still highlight some of the inequalities of the world around us. It is criminal that Living Colour have become renowned only as the band that wrote ‘Cult of Personality’ when the rest of their songs are still so damn strong and positive. Their lyrics are as biting and true as ever, lines like “No lefts/No rights/No middle or divide” from ‘Freedom of Expression (F.O.X.)’ (the opening song on ‘Shade’) affirming that the band haven’t lost any of their relevance.


As the show wears on none of the initial sheen comes away from the band’s electrifying performance, to such an extent that even the dreaded solo sections fly off without a hitch. Doug Wimbish is given a moment in the sun to lay down a bass solo which starts out at recognisable funk before spiralling out of control, ending in an instrumental that screams the same virtuoso melodies that one might hear in a Carlos Santana guitar piece, while Will Calhoun steps forward shortly after with a handheld percussion instrumental which blows apart the bog-standard snares n symbols rock drum solo.


Living Colour 2

Drawing to a close, the band pull out satirical epic ‘Elvis Is Dead’ to inspire a few grins, especially with the impromptu ‘Hound Dog’ segment thrown in at the end. Much as it was on the seminal album ‘Time’s Up’, the band chase this with ‘Type’, a funk rock classic that ends with Glover howling into the microphone in one of the most impassioned and cathartic performances you’ll see this side of an exorcism. There’s no doubt on anybody’s mind which song is being left until last though, and inevitably when the riff of ‘Cult of Personality’ kicks in the entire crowd reach fever-pitch, roaring along to every single line with staggering levels of gusto, leaving the band to wrap things up cleanly with a cover of Cream’s iconic ‘Sunshine of Your Love’.


Playing on a miserable Wednesday night, in a small town just outside two major cities, the odds were against Living Colour succeeding. Yet, in what seems to be a recurrent theme for the band, they took one look at adversity and spat right in its face, putting on one of the best shows of the year.


‘Shade’ is out now via LC25 Productions


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