Such was the emotional greeting their arrival generated, one may easily have been forgiven for thinking this was a headlining show for the dynamic NYC quartet that is Living Colour. That said, it was highly probable their billing as Special Guests to Extreme sold a significant number of extra tickets.
Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – 1 December 2023
Words: Sophie James
Photography: Jason Samuels
Before we delve any further, I have an admission to make. While being a follower since the musical kaleidoscope that was 1988’s debut Vivid, circumstances have prevented me from experiencing them until now. As I just alluded to, it seems I also was not alone in my eager anticipation.
With a wealth of self-penned material in their songbook, it was rather unexpected that they ignited with Zeppelin’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. Such was the arrangement; they stamped their own eclectic influences right across it. It certainly got the crowd warmed up and received a rapturous ovation.
If the opener served as an aperitif, the serious business commenced as Vernon Reid cranked out my favourite Living Colour riff in Middle Man. As the song developed, I, for one, was mesmerised by the spellbinding sonic tapestries generated. At times, I am in disbelief that a single guitar is producing such varied sounds.
“You ready to have a real good time?” enquired the spectacularly suited Corey Glover.
To my ears, there is no better exemplification of their sound than Type. With a riff as equally infectious as its predecessor and Will Calhoun’s characteristic beat from his modest low-lying kit, the arrangement built to an almost symphonic level of intensity, with Vernon liberating himself from any restraints as the band galloped to a grinding ending.
Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah provided a complete change of pace. This has to be one of the most covered numbers in recent times. Unsurprising, considering its beauty, but Corey injected a huge dollop of soul.
It was one of many quite remarkable vocals which were quite frankly astounding throughout the condensed set. Only the first verse and chorus were aired here as it segued so organically into Open Letter To A Landlord.
What an utter delight as the razor-sharp avant-garde of the main riff crashed in so intricately underpinned by Doug Wimbish’s fluid, expressive bass. Pure yin and yang. As the song bloomed into its crescendo, Corey’s vocals were just so searingly impassioned and delivered with such tonal precision.
I found myself thinking, this guy could give most Soul Divas a run for their money. A performance worthy of the acclaim he received from Vernon, Doug, and the crowd.
Strings trailed by that unmistakable funky bass heralded Love Rears Its Ugly Head. The way that Corey’s imploring howl atop the gritty riff gave the number an almost ethereal texture.
To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop, what followed was a most impeccable three-song medley of White Lines / Apache / The Message, the originals of which, we were reliably informed, contained bass from a certain Mr Wimbish. Different, unexpected, yet very well received, who else but Living Colour could pull off this captivating, vibrant reimagining?
The syncopating, distorted driving funk of the penultimate Ignorance Is Bliss preceded what else but Cult of Personality.
The joint was rockin’, with Corey understandably wanting some of that action. Mounting the stage side stack and fist-bumping a segment of the middle balcony, he cast off all remaining inhibitions and worked himself along said balcony until parting with the words “Stay cool for Extreme.”
Forty-five minutes of pure bliss, which felt over so soon after it began.
As an improvisational musician, it must be a joy to be in this band. I found myself pondering the number of aspiring and established artists present this evening who were inspired by and appreciative of what had just transpired.
One was left with a feeling of total envy for those who would witness a complete set the following evening at The Tivoli in Buckley.