Living Colour 30th Anniversary Tour
w/ Heavy Metal Ninjas
Thursday 11 May 2017
Money or music?
I faced a difficult decision a few years ago
I was a year into my university studies and hadn’t been able to find much work over the Summer break. I was in the process of opening up a student account at the bank for when I’d need the interest-free overdraft for the upcoming year. I had to take 11 weeks off work that year to do the teacher placements as part of my studies and I couldn’t see any way that I could afford to do that.
So of course AJ Maddah announced the lineup for that years Soundwave festival.
It wasn’t the big names that drew me in. Sure, I’d like to see them, but I didn’t see them as major drawcards. It was some of the lesser known bands that I reeeallly wanted to see. You know, the bands written in tiny writing at the bottom of the poster that you have to squint to read. Like my favourite band: Scottish trio Biffy Clyro. Or Arizona act Jimmy Eat World. Or funk rock titans Living Colour.
There was no way I could afford to attend Soundwave, but there were a few sideshows that could have been viable options.I had friends I could stay with in Melbourne. Biffy Clyro played at The Corner Hotel, where I’d seen hardcore legends Terror play a few years beforehand. Living Colour were to open for Alter Bridge at The Forum. Dipping into the $1000 course related costs I was entitled to became veeeeery tempting.
Financial reason won in the end. Sad face emoji. No trip to Melbourne, no seeing awesome bands.
Buuuuut, I have been fortunate enough to see those three bands since. All at the Auckland Powerstation. And tonight, Living Colour proved that they were worth the wait.
Heavy Metal Ninjas
Local quartet Heavy Metal Ninjas came onstage dressed very much like Kora, which isn’t too surprising seeing as the two bands share members. As well as rocking the samurai garb, the two guitarists and bass player all had half face masks that gave off a Kylo Ren vibe. Maybe the drummer didn’t get the memo regarding dress code, choosing to opt for a bogan Jesus look instead.
Their music was sharp technical metal, full of double kick drums, guitar noodling and djenty riffs. They took Steve Vai worship to the next level. I counted 22 strings between the three masked men. As for the drums… well you can never really have enough cymbals can you?
The hard-hitting sci-fi take on instrumental metal delivered blow after pummeling blow, strengthened by the regular inclusion of strong sub bass that made me want to vomit. I’ll give them points for making an impact, and the crowd lapped it up.
Living Colour last visited our shores in 1993. A few people in the audience were rocking t shirts from that tour tonight. I, however, was merely an infant at the time, being born in 1992.
Not that this made a difference. Being one of the younger people in attendance made me feel as if I was in on a special secret.
The band weren’t scared to add a handful of covers to their set; they both opened and closed with a cover, as well as interspersing them throughout the night. Their influences range far and wide: Robert Johnson, Notorious BIG, Junior Murvin, Elvis, The Clash. Both familiar yet new, the songs all worked seamlessly into the set.
Living Colour are well seasoned pros. Their abilities are phenomenal. I don’t say this lightly. They. Can. Play.
The way Corey Glover sung, you wouldn’t know that he has worked those vocal cords hard for over 30 years. Not only is his singing great, but he has such range. He can bark during the thrash numbers. He can scream – you know, rock star style – like in “Hey Jude”. He has speed. I swear that even though I was watching his lips move, my brain couldn’t keep up with how fast he was spitting out words in some songs. And of course, he can do sexy soulful. He wore a paint splattered denim suit with gingham shirt, tie and a feathered hat.
Doug Wimbish was the centre of attention, playing up for the cameras. He may be the newbie in the band, but you’d never pick it. His bass solo was one of the highlights of the night. He played a tune – great in its own right. Then using a looping pedal, he added upon the tune, jamming with himself. His joy was openly visible as he expanded the sound during his solo. He employed various pedals to change his tone – deep, rich bass, higher guitar tones, alien sounds. And if the music wasn’t enough, he started playing with his mouth too. It was a wonder to listen to as he masterfully played his instrument.
Drummer Will Calhoun was just as mesmerising. His two kick drums sported Australian art. The first with a picture of Ayers Rock and a kangaroo, and the second depicting the Aboriginal flag (which looked like a pokéball when cropped into a circle). Situated around him were his many signature drums, cymbals, electronic pads and a large corrugated Hammerax sheet cymbal.
The way he approaches his playing is so outside-the-square that I doubt I’ll ever see another drum solo quite like his. First of all, he’s lightning fast. Living Colour have their thrash metal moments, but I didn’t realise how frenetic a lot of the rest of their works are. And then there’s his experimental side. He discussed it with me when I interviewed him a few weeks back. He takes electric drums and messes with the sound just as a guitarist uses pedals and effects to affect their tone. And on top of all this talent and creativity, he is highly educated in the ways of drumming from cultures worldwide. For me, his drum solo was worth the price of admission alone.
Which leaves Vernon on guitar. The unsung hero. He played the joker, cracking funnies to wind up Corey. He bore the blame when the band made a few mistakes. He referred to himself as the nerd in a band of sexy people. But he is the man responsible for forming Living Colour. And his guitar work is damn amazing. Humbleness is a virtue, but Vernon Reid is more than deserving of an ego.
When you consider the talent, the showmanship, the vibrancy of each of these four men, and realise that Living Colour is more than the sum of its parts, you come to understand that this show is one of those truly amazing nights that surpassed even the wildest expectations. After 30 years, you’d expect them to know how to own a stage. Which they did. The jokes and banter was funny. The music was immersive and compelling. The musicians were genuine. And just to prove it, they all came and met with the fans to take photos and sign merch after the show.
Living Colour links:
All words and photos by Joseph James