Loud and In Living Colour

The rock band’s latest release, The Chair in the Doorway, stands out as a collection of first-rate songs wrapped in hard rock, metal, funk and blues.

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Creative Loafing

The crowd at this Brooklyn listening party bobs its collective head and sways as best it can, given the notable lack of wiggle room. Up front, the four men on stage make what they do look effortless; they use a guitar, a bass, drums and vocals to create a comfortable vibe one moment, and coiling power crashes through the walls the next. After finishing the first song, “Burned Bridges,” the lead singer winks at us.

“Yeah, we're still loud," he says.

The crowd claps, hoots and whistles. It's a devoted group of friends, family and even press that has gathered together to witness a live performance of Living Colour's studio album, The Chair in the Doorway—its first in six years. Many of these fans are here because they know that this is the black band with a place firmly rooted in rock's canon.

Living Colour—the post-Jimi Hendrix quartet of Vernon Reid, Corey Glover, Will Calhoun, and first Muzz Skillings, but now Doug Wimbish—shattered the color barrier in rock music. It was Living Colour that broke into the mainstream consciousness and brought the term “black rock” to prominence. The members of this band have been making music for over two decades, both individually and as a group.

“When they play together, I’ll put them onstage with anybody, in any genre of music,” says cultural critic and longtime friend Greg Tate who, along with Reid and artist manager Konda Mason, co-founded the Black Rock Coalition. “It’s literally like the Coltrane band”—the Classic Quartet of Coltrane, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison—“is playing rock. Cats on that level. This is one of the great bands in terms of a rhythm section and a soloist. It’s pretty undeniable. Awe-inspiring really. [Bad] Brains had that. So did [Led] Zeppelin. This is one of the great rock rhythm sections, and they will stomp ya ass.”

The vitality that’s apparent in both this performance and in the new album, which came out on Sept. 15, was the result of some soul searching on the band’s part. “Part of it is that it’s 20-plus years on. And we’re not the newest flavor on the block,” says guitarist Reid. “And we don’t know if we run our flag up the pole, if anyone will salute.”

Lead singer Corey Glover says this is a special moment: “This is the first time we’ve all been on the same page,” he says. “I forgot that we actually agree with each other sometimes. We get it now. We understand what it’s like to be on the road, making music. And we also have the experience of not being around each other and bringing those experiences into whatever we’re doing.”

The new album also reflects the band's evolution to a place of maturity. They all went out, found mates and started families. Basically, they are now rooted in a way they couldn’t have been 20 years ago. Living Colour has been reunited for nearly 10 years—having disbanded for almost six years and reforming in 2000. They’ve played together constantly since then. 

“We’re four African-American men that choose to be in this relationship. That’s increasingly rare. This conversation that we’re in isn’t done,” says Reid. “It’s a conversation between the four of us. It’s a conversation with the culture. It’s a conversation of being four Americans in a world where being an American is a changing thing, where the American idea is undergoing drastic changes.”

The Chair in the Doorway is a darker, warmer, less buffed-and-shined album than past Living Colour efforts. That said, it stands out as a collection of first-rate songs wrapped in hard rock, metal, funk and blues. Glover’s voice is still that captivating combination of invitation and threat in a single package. And, yes, the band’s amps still go to 11. Longtime fans will be pleased: There are plenty of hard rock numbers like the metallic “The Chair”; the head nod-inspiring “DecaDance”; the fun screamo “Out of Mind”; and the upbraid in “Hard Times.” But these are balanced by the powerful opener “Burned Bridges”; the introspective “Method”; and the electric blues romp that is “Bless Those.”

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