As the auditorium fell into darkness, Mark King’s bass lit up with little blue lights. For the Level 42 faithful, it felt like Christmas had come early.
Seconds before, the band had bounded on stage to a standing ovation, such is the affection with which this veteran jazz-funk-pop outfit continue to be held some 33 years since they formed.
Level 42 remain bona fide crowd-pleasers, as at home mashing it up on the stage today as they were recording a string of hit singles in the 1980s. In fact, you could have been forgiven for thinking it was 1987 all over again. The first half of the show was dedicated to that year’s album release, Running In The Family, which was played in full to mark the recording’s 25th anniversary.
As King remarked, the songs were played “like on the vinyl”. Ah, that word – vinyl. Just uttering it enriched the glow of nostalgia blanketing Symphony Hall.
It was no idle boast, either. King, a bassist extraordinaire, together with Mike Lindup, on keyboard and vocals (the high bits), may be the only remaining members of the original line-up but the sound has stayed the same. Nathan King (guitar/vocals), Pete Ray Biggin (drums) and Sean Freeman (sax/vocals) ensure the 2012 incarnation of Level 42 maintain the group’s high levels of musicianship.
Inevitably, though, it is King’s playing that continues to take the breath away. Rarely has a bass been spanked so majestically in the name of pile-driving funk. The voice remains in fine fettle, too.
As a fan of the band’s earlier output, Running In The Family was never a favourite album but it has stood up well, the irresistible dance pop of Lessons In Love and the mea culpa break-up ballad It’s Over stand as emotional high-points and illustrate Level 42’s mood changing playing.
The start of the second set comprised a number of acoustic arrangements that lacked the power of the band’s trademark sound, hinting perhaps at future directions. King promised the crowd the band would return in 2014 with a new album.
With electrification resumed, King’s bass, now red, lit up once more and we were back on firmer ground as the leader declared: “Let the funk begin.”
The two-hour show closed out with a string of favourites including The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up), Starchild (but no Love Games – boo) and the infectious Something About You.