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Living Colour impresses a small crowd at Knuckleheads

A vast spectrum of American music, ranging from the ghostly blues of Robert Johnson to the grim hip-hop of Notorious B.I.G., was given a metallic makeover on the outdoor stage of Knuckleheads on Tuesday.

Living Colour, a band best known for a handful of hits in the late 1980s, dazzled an audience of 200 with an encyclopedic survey of musical styles.

Rather than simply rehashing favorites like the Grammy Award winning "Cult of Personality," the quartet from New York adventurously reappraised its catalog by incorporating additional elements of jazz, blues, funk, gospel and hip-hop into its hard rock and heavy metal.

Living Colour never regained the commercial momentum it lost after taking a five year hiatus beginning in 1995, but the exceptional musicianship and the furious intelligence that distinguished the band from its peers 25 years ago were evident Tuesday.

A rendition of "Funny Vibe," a song about racial profiling, seethed with an undercurrent of rage. During "Open Letter (To a Landlord)," vocalist Corey Glover roamed the audience like an impassioned preacher as he protested against urban gentrification. A scathing treatment of Notorious B.I.G.'s "Who Shot Ya," an coldblooded analysis of murder, was delivered with vitriol.

The social commentary was balanced by the informal tone of Tuesday's performance.

The band celebrated the 58th birthday of bassist Doug Wimbish with a show so loose that it occasionally resembled a rehearsal. After a shaggy version of "Fight the Fight," guitarist Vernon Reid noted that "we haven't played that song in years." "And it shows," Glover quipped. Hearing a band as gifted as Living Colour explore the neglected original song and improvise on the melody of "Kansas City" during an intergalactic jam was a treat.

Reid plays with the technical surety of Eddie Van Halen on a jazz bender. His striking work on the Robert Johnson classic "Preachin' Blues" and a couple new blues compositions point to one possible fruitful direction for Living Colour, a prospect that should make current blues guitar heroes like Joe Bonamassa tremble.

While it became absurdly indulgent at its conclusion, much of Wimbish's nine minute solo was a stately concerto. Drummer Will Calhoun's creative 10 minute showcase evoked the classical minimalism of Steve Reich.

Once a histrionic singer, Glover now has the mentality of a jazz vocalist. His quote of Eddie Jefferson's "Moody's Mood for Love" during a metal selection reflected his newfound sensibility.

SETLIST

Ignorance Is Bliss

Middle Man

Preachin' Blues

Freedom of Expression

Who's That

Funny Vibe

Who Shot Ya?

Open Letter (To a Landlord)

Kansas City

Memories Can't Wait

Fight the Fight

Wall

Type/Police and Thieves

Desperate People

Love Rears Its Ugly Head

Cult of Personality

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