Live Review : Living Colour + Wayward Sons + Jared James Nichols @ Academy 2, Manchester on July 26th 2019

It probably seems like I start most of my reviews with either a travel or weather report...but seriously when trains are delayed and cancelled due to melting overhead cables and buckling train tracks, then it’s worth mentioning! Right? With the journey to Manchester finally completed, I stroll down to the Academy 2 for doors. Now, Academy 2 is sweltering at the best of times, but tonight I'm early enough into the venue that it hasn't filled up yet, and so it's cooler than outside, bizarrely (spoiler – that doesn’t last!).

First on is Jared James Nichols and his brand of very, very funky blues rock. He oozes bluesy cool with his massive mane of hair, rocking back on his heels as he churns out blues lick after blues lick. He’s got an impressively chaotic drummer who provides complex drum patterns alongside an immensely laidback metronomic bassist. The whole sound is totally in-keeping with Living Colour. Totally. Of particular note is how JJN plays his guitar – without a plectrum. It’s an intriguing combination of acoustic and bass fingerstyle techniques, and as Johann points out to me, allows for a much more rounded tone than usual. His vocal performance does on occasion drift into a David Coverdale pastiche, but the whole package is a suitable opener for tonight’s line-up.

Main support tonight are the Toby Jepson fronted Wayward Sons. I know a few people who are very excited by these guys, so I grab another pint and stand waiting. I’m immediately hit by how obviously influenced by Led Zeppelin they come across. Oh hang on! No, it’s more like The Darkness. No, I’m thinking maybe AC/DC. I’m looking to re-evaluate my pigeonholing after almost every single song end, whilst there’s no inherent problem with that, it does mean the set isn’t particularly cohesive or aiding me in comprehending what the Wayward Sons ‘sound’ is. It's certainly not as sassy as JJN, but they're still very much a groovy blues-rock offering. Actually, if you substitute the funkiness from JJN for unadulterated soul then you've got a large element of Wayward Sons. Having said that they do come across a bit like a pub-rock band, albeit with an upgraded frontman, and they don’t really have any individual aspect that is particularly impressive. They’re upbeat and fun, but a bit too much like Bon Jovi or Thunder for my liking, and simply don’t have memorable songs.

At last, it’s time for Living Colour to take to the stage. I’ve never managed to see these legends live before, so to get to see them performing debut album “Vivid in full is a massive treat. But as they kick-off they open with ‘Ignorance is Bliss. My heart sinks as I know I have to leave early - will I have to miss my favourite tunes that I've been waiting a lifetime to hear live? Fortunately not, as that was simply a warm-up song (very likely it was to make sure their levels were right, they're experienced professionals after all!). They state their intention to perform “Vivid in full, and the crowd go crazy as the opening riff for their biggest song ‘Cult of Personality kicks in. As they themselves say they’ve been doing this for 30 years, and my god they’ve got this dialled-in. The tunes are still punchy, funky and fresh as ever, and the guitar work from Vernon Reid is from another planet. They’re truly delivering a masterclass in funk-rock-metal.  

Corey Glover looks too cool by far in his two-tone check suit and his awesome vocal gymnastics and range defy belief. Doug Wimbish still delivers arguably the funkiest bass lines in the business; the pop he produces is louder than anything I’ve ever heard. ‘Open Letter' (To a Landlord) allows the two of them to showcase these talents perfectly, and is probably the high-point of the night; Glover sings the introduction without a mic and blows us all away with his power and tone.

Thanks to the crap British rail network (and its timing for engineering works) I have to make an early dart for the last train, missing the extra hits. It doesn't detract however from a superb night delivered by a band who proved they’re still the kings of funk-rock.

Words by Matt Fraser
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki