The year was 1986. The venue, the QE2, located in downtown Albany. Home for the summer from Fredonia State College, I joined a few friends and my girlfriend at the time to head for the now-closed alternative music haunt – QE2 was the Albany equivalent of Buffalo’s much-missed Continental – to catch a buzzed-about heavy rock/funk hybrid from New York City known as Living Colour.
The place was packed, and we were unaware that an opener was on the bill that evening. So it was with a significant degree of shock that I encountered Seattle’s Soundgarden for the first time. Singer Chris Cornell arrived shirtless, and did these guys ever raise a ruckus. The paint appeared to be peeling off the walls as the band played a bunch of what I later learned was the “Screaming Life EP,” as well as a few tunes from what would be released as “Louder Than Love.” I recall Cornell jumping up on the QE2 bar, and screaming holy murder from a vantage point a mere few feet in front of me and my group of friends. It was pretty incredible. Soundgarden ended up being one of my favorite bands of the following decade. There’s a photo somewhere of me leaving the QE2 that night with my eyes wide, an emerging scream obfuscated by the Soundgarden sticker my friend Trevor had affixed to my mouth. Good times.
Times made even better, in fact, by the headliner. Living Colour was one of the more interesting bands of the later ’80s. There weren’t a whole lot of legitimately gritty, aggressive funk bands around at the time. Living Colour took a bit from Bad Brains, a bit from Ornette Coleman, a bit from classic heavy metal, and a lot from Defunkt, the band that founder Vernon Reid was a member of for a short time.
Soundgarden would go on to claim the “grunge” mantle, and then to move into a heavy progressive psychedelia that, happily, brought the band surprising commercial popularity despite its density. Living Colour would have significant success with the debut effort “Vivid,” but would fold back into cult-level status almost immediately thereafter, releasing a stream of funk-metal masterpieces that continues to this day but enjoying little of the commercial spotlight.
Western New Yorkers of a certain age should feel lucky – heck, anyone who cares about aggressive funky music should feel lucky – that Living Colour will headline the annual New Year’s Eve Guitar Drop festivities, held adjacent to the Hard Rock Café on Old Falls Street in Niagara Falls. The free concert kicks off at 8 p.m. Tuesday, with performances from a pair of audacious, funk-infused regional bands, Breakerbox and Randle & the Late-Night Scandals. Heated party tents will serve celebratory amenities throughout the evening, and a fireworks display will mark the arrival of 2014.
It’s been a long road from the QE2 to here.
Against the grain
On Jan. 21, Florida punk rock outfit Against Me! will release “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” its first effort since “White Crosses,” which dropped in 2010. In the time since, frontman and leader Tom Gabel came out as transgender in the pages of Rolling Stone, and now goes by the name Laura Jane Grace.
A solo acoustic tour found Grace offering hints of what was to come with the new Against Me! album. Last week, Rolling Stone shared the band’s new single, “Black Me Out,” revealing that, though the gender may change, the song remains the same – anthemic punk rock delivered by stiff-gallop rhythms is the order of the day.
Against Me! performs at 8 p.m. Jan. 5 in the Town Ballroom (681 Main St.). The Sidekicks and the Shondes will open. Tickets are $17 advance, $19 day of show (box office, www.tickets.com).
A rock rebel
For the 12th year running, Buffalo musicians who are fans of the late Joe Strummer – he of the Clash and Mescaleros fame – will gather to celebrate the considerable legacy of punk rock’s most enduring icon. “Garageland: the 12th Annual Joe Strummer Tribute” will take over the Waiting Room (334 Delaware Ave.) at 8 p.m. Friday. Over the past 12 years, the Strummer Tribute has claimed its home at the gone-but-not-forgotten Mohawk Place, and the larger Town Ballroom, but the Waiting Room would seem to be the perfect fit for the Strummer-based rave-up, in terms of size and sound quality.
Again this year, the event will be headlined by Outside Broadcast, a Buffalo supergroup comprised of Strummer-heads from the bands Rhubarb, Dotsun Moon, Warm Filaments, the Viva Noir, Spitfire & the Rebel Yell and Neyko. Outside Broadcast will concentrate on the “London Calling”-era of the Clash this year. The Rebel Waltz, and a host of individual artists and ensembles will join the fun as well. Admission will be $12 at the door. Cool ‘n’ out!