A very important milestone recently occurred in the history of rock ‘n’ roll: the 25th anniversary of the debut album “Vivid” (1988) by Living Colour, the first all-African-American crossover heavy metal act. To mark the occasion, the original lineup of the group toured extensively playing the whole album cover to cover—The Catalyst in Santa Cruz had the honor of hosting one of the Bay Area gigs by this legendary ensemble. And I had the unique privilege of having been there before Living Colour broke out and also there to celebrate their legacy. They were amazing in 1989, playing at a very intimate place called Bogart’s nightclub in Long Beach, Calif., which sadly is no more.
The group was as Greek gods descended from Mount Olympus, sculpted out of pure obsidian. Corey Glover, the lead singer, fresh off co-starring in director Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War film epic “Platoon,” looked a black Adonis in his Body Glove getup strutting and jumping around the stage, all the while giving the anthem “Cult of Personality” its just due from the bottom of his leather-lined lungs. Dictators such as Stalin and Mussolini never stood a chance. I was in awe, sitting in the front row. Just to think, a few months later Living Colour would be opening for the Rolling Stones on their Steel Wheels tour at the 93,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Some say that Mick Jagger was paying it forward by discovering, producing the demo for and promoting Living Colour for all the blues artists the Stones had been ripping off since the 60s. I think Mick just knew the real deal when he heard it.
To this day, lead guitarist Vernon Reid has got to be among the most undersung axeman in the business. With the monster riffs he picks off on “Cult of Personality” and “Middle Man,” for which the video was the first clip to be featured on both MTV’s alternative music show “120 Minutes” and its heavy metal program “Headbangers Ball,” Reid can arguably be ranked right up there with Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore on “Smoke on the Water” for most immediately recognizable song intro.
The rest of the CD still sounds crisp and au courant with the mind-blowing meat grinder “Desperate People” still capable of singeing your eardrums with the whammy bar squeals, soprano high notes and unfortunately relevant-to-today anti-drug message.
Not to be outdone, the rhythm section of Living Colour—bassist Muzz Skillings and drummer William Calhoun—is excellent, keeping the beat steady and—pardon the pun—rock solid yet still funky when the need arises. Overall, Living Colour laid the foundation for many multicultural rockers that followed to build on, but upon which they could never construct an equally structurally sound second story. Maybe that lawsuit against the Wayans for the sketch comedy show “In Living Color” was too much of a distraction.