LIVE: Living Colour @ Empire State Plaza, 6/4/14

Corey Glover (photo by Rudy Lu)
Living Colour’s Corey Glover (photo by Rudy Lu)

Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Additional photographs by Richard Brody, Stanley Johnston

When the Governor Nelson Rockefeller regime built the Empire State Plaza back in the ’60s, it displaced and destroyed a huge and vital chunk of the City of Albany’s neighborhoods. So it was with no small sense of irony that Living Colour ripped into “Open Letter (To a Landlord)” on Wednesday night from the stage on the very same plaza.

“Now you can tear a building down
But you can’t erase a memory
These houses may look all run down
But they have a value you can’t see…”

Whether the band had any idea about the concert site’s history or not is moot. The song was virtually written to be played on that stage, and the added weight of the ESP’s history imbued the ferocious anti-gentrification anthem with a weight that it probably doesn’t carry at most Living Colour concerts.

Then again, maybe they did know exactly what they were singing about – and where they were singing it. Vocalist Corey Glover kicked off their show by declaring, “We finally made it to the Capital, and we’re ready to burn it down.”

And, burn, baby, burn, they did. At least musically speaking.

The band doesn’t have much of a history here in Nippertown. Living Colour made their area debut in the ’80s at QE2, played the inaugural Lollapalooza tour at SPAC back in 1991 and offered an all-too brief appearance at the 2010 Experience Hendrix tour stop at the Palace Theatre. And, unless I’m mistaken, that was it. But they tore through their nearly two-hour set balancing fury and finesse, as though they were young hungry lions on the prowl, brimming over with passion and politics.

In fact, if some extraterrestrial asked me to recount the history of rock ‘n’ roll, this would have been the show that I’d have taken him to. From guitar-strangler Vernon Reid’s opening slide guitar assault on on “Preacher’s Blues” to the band’s take-no-prisoners rampage through “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” it was one seriously hell-bent journey. From Robert Johnson to the Clash? Yeah, that just about sums up what rock ‘n’ roll is all about…

And in addition to their own gems – the stampeding freak-out of “Time’s Up,” the uplifting “This Is the Life” and, of course, their biggest hit, “Cult of Personality” – they also spiced it all up along the way with a shimmer of gospel fervor (“Amazing Grace”), the deep-roots punk of the MC5 (“Kick Out the Jams”) and the seriously sweat-inducing funk of James Brown (a terrific tear through “Sex Machine” that featured Glover stalking his way through the crowd and up the museum steps).

No question about it, Reid remains a master guitar hero, capable of transforming any song into showcase of hellfire fretwork. And Glover screams and shouts with abandon like a man possessed, and yet he hits all the notes – an absolutely astonishing range of notes – and improvises like a master jazz scat vocalist.

But Living Colour wouldn’t exist without the rock-solid foundation of the rhythm section of bassist Doug Wimbish and drum-crusher Will Calhoun. They nailed the galloping tempo of “Desperate People,” the thumb-poppin’ funk groove of “Funny Vibe,” the dip into swing during “Memories Can’t Wait” and some deep-dub reggae during “Type.”

Although they didn’t offer any sneak previews, at the end of the night Wimbish said that a new Living Colour album is slated for release in the fall. And I, for one, can’t wait…

Local 518 faves Mirk opened the show with their mix of hip-hop, R&B, rock and soul, as frontman Joshua Mirsky led the band through a rollicking set that showcased several songs from the band’s upcoming album, Run, slated for a release party at Albany’s Hollow Bar + Kitchen on Saturday, June 28.

In between Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds captivated the crowd with a 40-minute set on their way to Mountain Jam. Led by slinky, snake-hipped soul singer Arleigh Kincheloe, the seven-piece, horn-fueled soul machine pumped out respectable covers of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” and Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll, as well as a knock-out treatment of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody,” but they scored best with their original tunes, including the opening “The Long Way,” the pop-funk of “Sugar” and the blues-soaked “Don’t Be Jealous (It’s Just Me and the Fellas).”

Peter R. Barber’s photographs at The Daily Gazette

Preachin’ Blues (Robert Johnson)
Middle Man
Desperate People
Funny Vibe
Amazing Grace
Open Letter (To a Landlord)
You Gotta Move (Mississippi Fred McDowell) > Memories Can’t Wait
Ignorance Is Bliss
This Is the Life
Love Rears Its Ugly Head
(bass solo)
Kick Out the Jams (MC5)
(drum solo)
Time’s Up > Sex Machine (James Brown)
Cult of Personality
Should I Stay Or Should I Go (the Clash)

Vernon Reid (photo by Stanley Johnson)
Vernon Reid (photo by Stanley Johnson)
 Doug Wimbish (photo by Rudy Lu)
Doug Wimbish (photo by Rudy Lu)
Will Calhoun (photo by Rudy Lu)
Will Calhoun (photo by Rudy Lu)
Vernon Reidy (photo by Rudy Lu)
Vernon Reid (photo by Rudy Lu)
Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds
Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds (photo by Rudy Lu)
Arleigh Kincheloe of Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds
Arleigh Kincheloe of Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds (photo by Stanley Johnson)
Mirk (photo by Richard Brody)
Mirk (photo by Richard Brody)
  1. Toast says

    Living Colour played the RPI Fieldhouse (with Kelvinator opening) back in their prime.

  2. Eric says

    Was just coming in to comment on the Fieldhouse show with Kelvinator. Had a blast at that one. They haven’t missed a step in all this time though. They were on fire at the Plaza last week!

  3. Stanley Johnson says

    Living Color opened for the Rolling Stones on the Steel Wheels tour at the Syracuse Carrier Dome in 1989. Unfortunately, most people weren’t paying attention and the sound quality sucked. Let that be a lesson: only Stevie Wonder was able to hold his own with the Stones crowd in 1972 at Madison Square Garden.

  4. Mark says
  5. Tom says

    Since you’re keeping score on covers, “memories can’t wait” is a Talking Heads song.

  6. PhilthyRex says

    Saw them at the QE2 back in the day. Who was the opening band you might ask? Soundgarden. Yep. “Screaming Life” tour, pre-SST LP.

  7. Chester Powers says

    Vernon Reid appeared with James Blood Ulmer many years ago in The RPI Student Union McNeil Room. Some of you folks may recall some other great shows there.

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