Early in their brawling high-spirited June 5th show, in the thick afternoon humidity at Central Park Summerstage, the New York black hard-rock quartet Living Colour played “Decadance” from their latest album, The Chair in the Doorway, an indictment of obscene greed with a grinding riff, a slow crushing rhythm and singer Corey Glover growling, “Enough is never enough,” with repetitive impatience, like a hanging judge hammering his gavel.
That line, taken a different way, was also appropriate for the occasion. Living Colour headlined a full day’s rock-out as part of the Black Rock Coalition’s 25th anniversary celebrations this year. The all-volunteer organization was started in 1985 — Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid was a co-founder — to address the obvious in a blinded industry: that black rock is not a contradiction in terms, and it didn’t end with the death of Jimi Hendrix. As Reid pointed out during Living Colour’s set, the BRC — which promotes and supports members’ recording and gigging activities and is famous for its concert tributes to black music heroes and martyrs — “never took a dollar from the government or industry ever.”
That the BRC is still here, and still needed, nearly a quarter-century after Living Colour supposedly demolished the bias with their 1988 breakthrough debut, Vivid, was pressed home every time Glover sang “Enough is never enough.” Because the work is never done. One stage announcement was a reminder of the BRC’s July 11th benefit, at B. B. King’s in New York and also starring Living Colour, for ailing P-Funk singer-guitarist Gary Shider (“the guy in the diaper”).
But the rock is worth the battle. At Summerstage, Living Colour — Reid, Glover, bassist Doug Wimbush and drummer Will Calhoun — covered their long spell in combat, from “Funny Vibe,” the funk-and-speed-metal smackdown of racial profiling on Vivid, to the ecumenical prayer “Bless Those” from Chair, with Reid’s striking swings between slinky bolts of country-blues picking and granite-block power chords. Reid is strangely close to being one of rock’s forgotten guitar heroes: Since his band is no longer on TV or what passes for rock radio, the only time you get his full scalding amalgam of Hendrix’s future blues, John McLaughlin’s superspeed and John Coltrane’s harmonic fury, pitted with distortion, is live, in the way he cut and skidded across the locked-grip turbulence of Wimbush and Calhoun in “Middle Man” and “Go Away” from 1993’s Stain. Also missed by those who only remember the Top 20 single “Cult of Personality”: Living Colour’s twin gifts for pop choruses and stinging humor, which they fired up in the leaping irony of “Glamour Boy” and the crusted R&B crawl “Love Rears Its Ugly Head.”
Also on the bill were the DJ CX Kidtronik, another New York band Pillow Theory — I only caught the last few minutes of the latter’s set, but enough of their metallic-Bad Brains fury to want more — and the British fireball Ebony Bones, a woman with a wild brown-curl cloud of hair, a whooping-soul voice and a kinetic strutting presence to match the tribal-funk and motoring-disco drive of her eight-piece group. The original songs were dynamic if similar, a steady blur of Balkan fiddle, jazz-fusion saxophone and Eighties-synth beep and squeal. But Ebony Bones’ cover of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” confirmed the comparison that nagged at the edge of my mind through the first half of the set: Annie Lennox backed by Adam and the Ants — with a lot more soul in the charge.
For information about Black Rock Coalition membership, activities and shows, go to blackrockcoalition.org.