Living Colour had already brought Rock In Rio 2022 to fever pitch. But having tore through a blistering rendition of Time’s Up, the band took a beat, before raising the stakes, with guitarist Vernon Reid addressing the crowd at the Parque Olímpico to tell them they had a pinch hitter coming off the bench to round things out on electric guitar.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to bring out our very, very special guest,” said Reid. “One of the greatest guitarists in the world, and our dear friend, Mr Steve Vai.”
Vai, emerges onstage, dressed in a multi-coloured shirt, armed with his Ibanez PIA signature guitar in Onyx Black, plays a lick, takes it down low with the vibrato before Reid jokes, “You’re hired! Let’s go.” And the band duly launch into a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Rock And Roll.
It’s a performance that’s lit up not only by Vai and Reid taking turns to solo – Vai applying his animalistic style to the Jimmy Page’s template, Reid tearing it up on his Hamer Chaparral – and Will Calhoun honouring John Bonham with a thunderous performance on drums, ably backed up by the peerless Doug Wimbish on bass guitar.
This Is The Life Follows, with Vai playing the intro melody on his Sustaniac-equipped PIA prototype, Corey Glover joining in on vocals, before Reid and Vai settle into the stilted swagger of the riff.
It is a song that reminds us just how close Living Colour can take avant-garde rock to the mainstream, taking the horizonless sensibility of jazz and applying it to the primacy of rock and funk rhythms. This is the sort of fusionist anarchy that Vai loves; he’s having a ball here.
A celebratory Crosstown Traffic follows, bouncing on a righteous groove, before the NYC rock stalwarts close out their set with their 1988 breakout hit, Cult Of Personality, which established the band as a staple of MTV’s rock programming, winning a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1989.
Speaking to Louder in 2016, Reid explained how the song came together, pulling together audio samples of world leaders and political figures, and resting on a riff that served as shorthand as to what Living Colour’s sound is all about.
“That cool riff had a Zeppelin-ish vibe, but also a Mahavishnu Orchestra thing going on,” Reid said. “It was based on a series of notes that Corey had sung – my attempt to repeat that [on guitar]. I already had the lyrics, but with the music in place it very quickly took on a life of its own.”
Steve Vai’s Inviolate Tour 2022 picks up on 28 September at The Magnolia, El Cajon, California. See Steve Vai for full dates. You can check out his cameo as Living Colour's over-qualified ringer – and the full set – above.