Slice of Personality: A Valentine Lunch with Living Colour

Crafted by David Leigh Abts & Kevin Hutchinson
Edited by Leslie Blodgett with photos by Elizabeth A. Abts

H#ll’s b#lls, my outfit has scored Valentine’s Day lunch with two-time Grammy-winners Living Colour at Williamsburg Pizza before their show at Brooklyn Bowl. True veterans of sound, will they be able to tell that I’m totally nervous? After thirty years of rocking out will they be stiff like John Candy after Jane Fonda’s Workout?

We shouldn’t have worried. They all give off a down-to-Earth vibe as though we’re sitting down to a family meal. This free-flowing chat starts with drummer Will Calhoun’s tale of meeting Jimi Hendrix’s father, Al Hendrix, who teared up when he learned that Will had purchased one of Jimi’s guitars.

By the second slice, guitarist Vernon Reid has told us about the first time he visited his ancestral home of Montserrat. He saw a car at his grandfather’s home that had been there so long a palm tree grew through it.

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Living Colour view their music as a continued conversation that they are having with their fans. It’s about keeping the conversation relevant, timeless and moving forward, not sticking with just one idea. To aid in this dialogue they cite Funkadelic, B.B. King, Santana, Cream, Led Zeppelin and Bad Brains as some of their biggest influences. They note how fortunate they were starting out in New York in the ‘80s being surrounded by legendary acts from all forms of art and music, like Public Enemy, Anthrax and Jean Michel Basquiat.

Living Colour’s work shows that they are always looking ahead and not just dwelling on proven formulas. Messages in their music range from prejudice (“Funny Vibe”) to elevation of social status (“Cult of Personality”) to human effects on ecosystems (“Time’s Up”). All are as relevant today as they were when they were written.

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We ask them what it’s like working with essentially the same personnel since the Reagan Administration. Vocalist Corey Glover responds that his bandmates operate as a family. Sure enough, our time with them is more fluid magnetism than pack-of-alphas, and he had a starring role in Oliver Stone’s Platoon.

Vernon adds, “You can love them for one beat. But can’t stand them the next. But you will always stand by them no matter what the current tempo is.” These gents have faced the ups and downs with each other that we all face in relationships, but love and understanding keep them going.

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The band members have been influential on a grand scale and in more direct, hands-on ways. Will mentors a student who plays in a metal band. The student loves jazz music but grew frustrated when his metal-loving crew refused to try playing it. Rather than trying to change their minds or pigeonhole any genre, Will suggested he slip a little jazz drumming into their metal sound.

Brittany Layton, a celebrity wardrobe stylist specializing in magazine editorials, has joined us for lunch. Her past clients include Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler. She asks the band, “How did the Living Colour image come about? Was it based on already existing personal style or was it calculated to appeal to the fans?”

They tell us that when the band formed, it was Vernon who would say “Wear this” or “Wear that.” He had a crew cut with dreads that nobody else was doing at the time.

Corey adds that at the time he was dating a stylist/designer that would put him in things, and Patricia Field was one of their preferred clothing stores.

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The band laughs saying they have often faced questioning from people who wanted to know how to label them. Even family members and friends questioned their loud hairstyles, hot pink Body Glove Spandex, Oakley Blade sunglasses and Jimmy Z Velcro trainers. But their individuality and the fact that they have always been so talented musically made that a non-issue. They also became talented at code-switching, or mingling in different circles.

When the band takes the stage later in the evening, fueled by pizza, they make the seamless genre blending they’d been telling us about look easy. From the bluesy stumble of the opener “Love Rears Its Ugly Head” to the beautiful South-Africa-influenced “Solace of You” to a blistering cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” for the closing number, they take the crowd on a journey through musical landscapes via hardcore assault. Living Colour has covered more ground and marched through more valleys than Lewis and Clark.

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Doing our part for CHD awareness.  http://mendedlittlehearts.org/chd-awareness.shtml

For Living Colour Album & Tour Information visit here.

For Information on Williamsburg Pizza visit here

This review is brought to you by the Mother’s Day at the Orphanage Production.

Visit our website: www.mothersdaystories.com.

Photos by Elizabeth A. Abts

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