There’s no overselling “Vivid,” Living Colour’s 1988 debut album. It brought much-needed intellect and craftsmanship to hard rock at the time. It made Living Colour tour mates with the Rolling Stones, earned the band a Grammy, and granted it membership into the alternative-rock scene. It reminded that guitar-rock was not a “whites only” game.
Living Colour is celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Vivid’s” release with a tour that brought the band to the Paradise Friday night. The sold-out affair reiterated the splendor of “Vivid” and reinforced that Living Colour — even a little greyer — is still a devastating band.
After warming up with a moaning rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues,” guitarist Vernon Reid, singer Corey Glover, drummer Will Calhoun, and bassist Doug Wimbish (who joined in 1992) performed “Vivid” in its playing order. That meant the group’s most popular song, “Cult of Personality,” came first. The delivery was electric, belying the mild-mannered vests-and-ties garb the musicians wore. Glover’s voice brimmed with operatic soul while Reid tore through the first of what would be many lightning-fast solos.
The song’s cynicism toward authority holds up, so that, coupled with the nostalgia of hearing a big hit immediately, set a high mark the band would have to match for the remainder of the two-hour concert. Meeting the challenge without difficulty, Living Colour revealed the depths of both “Vivid” and the band itself.
The album’s sharp commentary on class and race surfaced on “Open Letter (to a Landlord),” “Funny Vibe,” and “Which Way to America?” “I Want to Know” and “Broken Hearts” offered sheer pop appeal. “Middle Man” and “Glamour Boys” aired the band’s satirical side, while a cover of Talking Heads “Memories Can’t Wait” remained a vehicle for frenetic exploration. “Desperate People” and “What’s Your Favorite Color” were textbook room rockers.
Living Colour gave a fresh look to all of those facets. A spectral “Amazing Grace,” for instance, became the introduction to “Landlord.”
Wimbish and Calhoun (a Berklee grad who pointed out former instructor Lenny Nelson in the audience) masterfully worked through the range of rhythms on “Vivid.” But it was Reid who typically tipped the sound into the unreal, deploying flurries of finger-tapped notes and shaping bits of sonic squall into melody.
Living Colour played five additional songs from its back catalog, peaking on “Time’s Up” as it became a punk-funk blowout that interpolated James Brown’s “Sex Machine.”