Living Colour + Wayward Sons @ The Mill, Digbeth – Wednesday 17 July 2019


Witnessed by Jason Guest

Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ plays over the PA, the lights go down, more than a few cheers go up, and Wayward Sons enter the stage. Toby Jepson’s been doing this for a while now. And it shows. Fronting Little Angels and playing venues such as Hammersmith Apollo and The Royal Albert Hall as well as touring with Bon Jovi, Brian Adams, and Van Halen during their heyday and then playing Download and Isle of Wight festivals during their 2012/2013 reunion, Jepson has long learnt two things: first, how to get a crowd on side, and second, how to make an intimate venue show feel like a full-production stadium show. Though we’re here to see Living Colour, Jepson and co. win most if not all of tonight’s crowd over almost immediately with opener ‘Alive’. And three or four songs later, everybody is into it.

What’s clear from the outset is that that this isn’t Jepson and his backing band. Nope. Wayward Sons is a band, a full-blown entity firing on all five cylinders. While Jepson is the consummate frontman leading the crowd through one hook after another – the crowd responding as if they knew every song already– drummer Phil Martini, keyboardist Dave Kemp, bassist Nic Wastell and very-smiley guitarist Sam Wood are all outstanding. And song after song, more heads bop, more and more booties move, many drinks are raised and much and plenty cheering and applause is thrown stage-ward. Wayward Sons played The Mill not only like it was a stadium show but like it was their stadium show. If you haven’t got their debut album Ghosts Of Yet To Come, you might want to get it now because album number two, The Truth Ain’t What It Used To Be is available to pre-order through Frontiers from Friday 26 July. You might want to get on to that soon. Very soon.

Set list:

  1. Alive
  2. Don’t Wanna Go
  3. Ghost
  4. Any Other Way
  5. Crush
  6. Small Talk
  7. Little White Lies
  8. The Jokes On You
  9. Until The End

35 years in and Living Colour are still as cool as fuck. 30 years in and their debut album Vividis still cool as fuck. And when they walk on stage tonight, they are still cool as fuck. Guitarist Vernon Reid – understatement number one; he’s a virtuoso guitarist – looks cool as fuck as he walks on stage, straps on his guitar and plugs in. Bassist Doug Wimbish – understatement number two; he’s a virtuoso bassist – looks cool as fuck as he walks on stage and plugs in. Drummer Will Calhoun – understatement number three; he’s a virtuoso drummer – looks cool as fuck as he walks on and takes his place behind the kit. And outcooling them all is Corey Glover, who strolls on stage, hands in pockets, dressed in the coolest outfit to grace this or any other stage (see below). Glover is, without shadow of a doubt, a virtuoso outfit selector and wearer. He’s a pretty good singer too. Need I do the understatement number four thing?

Photo (from the band’s Facebook page) taken at The Mill, Digbeth

Vernon Reid, smiling already and without even a single note played, asks for audience participation straight away. For song one, ‘Freedom of Expression (F.O.X.)’, it’s to be “Yeah!”, and for song two, ‘Come On’, it’s to be, well, “Come On!”, obviously. A few quick rehearsals and smiles of approval from Reid suggest we’re ready and off kicks the evening. And this is why Living Colour are cool as fuck. Cool songs with cool riffs, cool beats, cool melodies and cool lyrics played by outstanding musicians who make it look effortless. Even when Reid is soloing, playing rapid runs, whacking the whammy bar and threatening to break music altogether, it looks effortless. And looks cool. And sounds cool.

Following these two tracks from 2017’s rather splendid Shade, into Vivid we are thrust. ‘Cult of Personality’ has everybody singing along right up until Reid’s frantic lead break makes everyone’s jaws drop. For the rest of the performance of the album, the energy is high, crowd and band are one, and each musician stands as strong individually as they do collectively. But with an album as strong as Vivid, they can’t go wrong. Vivid is that rare album where the musicianship and the song writing are equal, united. Fusing rock with funk with blues with jazz with hip-hop with metal with soul, it’s an album that has and will continue to stand the test of time, not only for its socio-political accuracy but also for merging styles that once would have seemed either impossible or as little more than a gimmick. In terms of ground-breaking musicianship, Reid is quick to point out – to much laughter – that 30 years before Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ mixed hip-hop with country blues, Living Colour did it with ‘Broken Hearts’. (An interesting piece on the album can be found here where Vernon Reid goes through the album track by track pointing out why it remains relevant – especially – today).

Closing with ‘Which Way To America?’ segueing into ‘Operation Mind Control’, the band needn’t ask ‘What’s Your Favourite Colour?’ because the applause they’ve been getting all evening tells them all they need to know: Living Colour. I remember first being exposed to Living Colour in 1989 when I saw them perform ‘Johnny B. Goode’ on the first International Rock Awards show (a show that lasted for 3 years but failed to attract sufficient viewing figures to last any longer) and being blown away by their fiery performance. They played like they had something to prove. What they proved then as they did tonight is that Living Colour is a band with the musicianship, the song-craft, and the cultural, social and political insight to continually produce material that is as vital as it is powerful. Maybe the next time we see them, it’ll be in support of a new album. But as next year is the 30th anniversary of Time’s Up, a tour celebrating that album wouldn’t go unwelcomed now would it? Either way, it’ll be as cool as fuck.

Set List:

  1. Freedom Of Expression (F.O.X.)
  2. Come On
  3. Cult Of Personality
  4. I Want To Know
  5. Middle Man
  6. Desperate People
  7. Open Letter (To A Landlord)
  8. Funny Vibe
  9. Memories Can’t Wait (Talking Heads Cover)
  10. Broken Hearts
  11. Glamour Boys
  12. What’s Your Favourite Colour? (Theme Song)
  13. Which Way To America? / Operation Mind Control


  1. Solace Of You