New York natives Living Colour are no strangers to the legendary and as of 2006, deceased NYC CBGB rock club, which supported live acts for 33 years. The band, known for its unique fusion of heavy metal, funk, reggae and other genres and influenced by everyone from Fishbone and Bad Brains to Jimi Hendrix, played at the world’s “most important punk rock club” in the 1980s, when no one knew who they were and then later, at the height of its (Living Colour’s) popularity late in the decade. [A CD from the group’s December 1989 show was released in 2005.]
CBGB and its founder Hilly Kristal are no longer in existence, but it’s only fitting that great rock bands of yesteryear that played there, including Living Colour are trying to keep alive the spirit of the club that introduced to the world The Ramones, Blondie and other future legendary rockers. Thus, the release of yet another Living Colour show that took place at CBGB, this one being a benefit meant to try and raise money to save the club from closing. It happened the night of August 19, 2005, and the newly released disc it appears on is titled, in short, CBGB OMFUG Masters (MVD Audio).
The show was taped via the CBGB soundboard, and though the mixing on the CD is highly respectable, it’s not quite perfect, as the crowd sounds a bit distant and there’s a half-second pause in sound during one song, “Love Rears Its Ugly Head.” The latter issue may or may not be just limited to my CD copy, but others who bought this CD can feel free to chime in about it in the “comments” section below.
The first thing that has to be said about Living Colour circa 2005 is that despite singer Corey Glover’s repeated declarations that “I’m getting old,” the high octane performances from this show would have you believe otherwise. That said, let’s get the few low-lights out of the way. The band stretched out but apparently didn’t nail the ending of its feel-good hit from 1988’s Vivid, “Glamour Boys.” That prompted the band to humorously tell the audience, “Let’s see what we remember!” Also, the crowd wasn’t totally feeling the long, experimental, drum ‘n’ bass-propelled rocker “Sacred Ground.”
Other live versions of fan favorites absolutely killed, however. Among the standouts were a fast-paced and raw version of the hard rockin’ Time’s Up (1990 CD) highlight “Type,” complete with its reggae bridge section, along with the slumlord-aimed (lyrically) but CBGB-dedicated “Open Letter To A Landlord,” where Glover really shows off his charm and soulful vocal style. Time’s Up hit “Love Rears Its Ugly Head,” which was introduced with a sweet freestyle, Hendrix-like guitar solo by underrated guitar genius Vernon Reid was another bright spot. Like Page Hamilton of Helmet, Reid has a background in jazz, and it often shows in songs such as this and the adventurous, speedy jazz/funk rock of “Funny Vibe,” another show highlight and song that not only has stood the test of time but probably influenced the likes of early Incubus.
On a blistering version of the chunky heavy pessimistic gem “Ignorance Is Bliss,” the only song taken from the under-appreciated and super-heavy 1993 CD Stain, Living Colour show how they, like few others during the early 90s – King’s X, Biohazard, etc. – were a bit ahead of its time in being among the first American hard rock bands to detune its guitars and basses at least two full steps below standard E-tuning. Thus, the ultra-heavy sound.
The set also included some of the angriest and most political songs in Living Colour’s discography. Two songs written earlier in this decade, the unreleased “Terrorism” and “In Your Name,” both aimed at the Bush administration, brought out the vicious side of Glover, who screams about how President Bush “lied in our name” about the case of war in Iraq. And of course, the political “Cult of Personality,” Living Colour’s best-known tune (from Vivid), brought the house down (even if a highly energized Vernon Reid was slightly imperfect with a couple of riffs). Glover then ends the show by saying a simple truth: “CBGB’s will never die.” Amen to that, brother.
Overall, the CBGB OMFUG Masters CD is full of exhilarating performances, for what was included. I say that because some fans online who claim they went to this show say a few songs are missing from this CD, including (alleged) actual show opener “Memories Can’t Wait,” “Go Away,” and “Flying.” If this is true – and it might just be, since just 12 songs are on here, totaling 78 high-flying minutes – then that’s a little disappointing. If this is such a memorable show, why not release the whole thing as it happened?
But I won’t let such alleged omissions ruin my enjoyment of a CD and a phenomenal band that sounded truly inspired this night. So enjoy Living Colour’s 2005 CBGB show for what it is, not for what it is not.