“That’s how we did this seven years ago,” Corey Glover cracked from the stage of New York’s CBGB. His remark referred to the unexpected entrance of guitarist Vernon Reid, who joined bassist Doug Wimbish, drummer Will Calhoun and singer Glover for a surprise Living Colour reunion. It was the first time the quartet, defunct since 1995, had played together on a stage in seven years.
CBGB was a fitting site for the reunion, because it was at that same club that Mick Jagger discovered the band more than a decade before. Jagger then invited the fledgling band to collaborate on his then-forthcoming solo album Primitive Cool (1987), and soon after, he produced the demos that landed Living Colour a deal with Epic Records. He even guested on their subsequent debut, 1988’s Vivid.
But it was Living Colour’s politicism, not Jagger’s patronage, that made them one of the most successful hard rock bands of the late 1980s. Formed by Reid in 1984, the band fused jazz, blues, soul and metal, and then imbued this motley mixture with the politics espoused by the Black Rock Coalition, which Reid formed with journalist Greg Tate in 1985. Their political message, so integral to their music, won them two Grammys (for “Cult of Personality” and 1990’s Time’s Up) before their own internal politics caused the band to part ways in 1995.
Reid, who left the band to pursue a solo career, foreshadowed this one-off reunion a few months ago, when he played a recent N.Y. club show that was heavy with Living Colour songs. Reid and his former band mates initially kept the CBGB appearance a secret, for fear that the show wouldn’t pan out. They even billed themselves under a false name, “Head Fake.” In the final days before the show, however, CBGB started promoting the night as “Head Fake featuring members of Living Colour” — and that obviously did the trick, as the club was packed.
The newly reunited band opened its hour-plus-long set with a quick jam from Calhoun and Wimbish (who replaced original bassist Muzz Skillings in 1992). Glover then joined the duo for a couple new songs, both of which retained Living Colour’s eclecticism while shying away from any overt lyrical message.
The band waited for Reid to complete the reunion before revisiting the Living Colour catalog. Beginning with “Go Away,” from 1993’s Stain, the ensuing set included Living Colour’s biggest hits, such as “Type,” “Open Letter (To a Landlord)” and “Cult of Personality.” It also featured later singles like “Bi,” and lesser-known songs “Middle Man” and “Memories Can’t Wait,” both from Vivid. Returning for their one-song encore, Glover insisted, “We don’t know any more songs,” before leading the band into a fiery cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic.”
“We decided to do this, and it was momentous for us,” said a dazed Reid following the show. He also said he is “open to things” regarding Living Colour’s future. At present, however, he says the band has no immediate plans to additional shows or record.