Living It Up: Level 42 + The Christians at the Brighton Dome, Tuesday 24 October
and live on Freeview channel 276
With The Christians in support, whose lead singer Garry Christian sported a flat cap, pinstripe shirt and waistcoat to serenade the crowd with his own quirky gravelly-voiced interpretations of songs such as Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" (Makes Me Want To Holler) as well as with self-penned tunes " Ideal World" and "Hooverville". These soon got the crowd up and swaying. Sweet, rough and ready in equal measure, Garry Christian gave a vocal performance which was soulful, compelling and intimate, delivering with humour and treating his audience as if they were his personal friends. A band at their most impressive in mid-tempo funk-rock mode, together the Christians imbued their set with a retro, rousing, Northern soul feel, especially on the Isleys' "Harvest For The World".
A changeover, a quick sound check and a flash of purple lights and silver smoke, and the group once dubbed "The British Earth Wind & Fire" suddenly appeared on stage, to a loud roar of appreciation from an audience who showed this was the moment they had been waiting for. In their most recent incarnation, the lineup is a seven-piece, comprising original member Mike Lindup on keyboards and electronics, with Nathan King in place of late guitarist and star songwriter Boon Gould, who co-wrote some of the band's biggest hits, including "Something About You" and "Love Games". Together with Pete Ray Biggin on drums, and augmented by a lively brass section of sax, trumpet and trombone, this gave their stage performance a much fuller sound, with brass players Dan Carpenter, Sean Freeman and Nichol Thompson adding some fun to the show with bursts of spontaneously co-ordinated dancing as well as storming instrumental solos when called for, especially on "Hot Water", when a host of sound effects and looping elevated their playing.
Other the other hand, Mark King showed that he had every bit as seriously deep a bass guitar groove live, as anything to be heard on a Level 42 record. Every song, for new and seasoned fans alike, was accompanied by his commendable onstage warmth and rapport with both band and audience, his spontaneity in soloing, his getting the audience to sing along with him on the choruses, just as much as the jaw- dropping virtuosity in his bass playing. The group as a whole took a while to find their feet for the first couple of songs, taking a while to ease into their stride, and on "Almost There" and "To Be With You Again", the sound mixing left something to be desired. However this glitch was soon sorted out, and Isle of Wight-born brothers Mark and Nathan King looked as if they were rather enjoying playing "Running In The Family" standing side by side.
The futuristic "Micro Kid" , a song which sounds as if it could have been written in foresight about Elon Musk, and featuring a vocoder and keyboard solo by Lindup; and "The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up) took the band back to their jazz funk roots as well as their first club and chart hits. On these, Lindup contrasted with his angelic, soaring vocals as well as playing his otherworldly keyboard and electronic soundscapes. This reached a climax on his own featured song "Starchild" , when he came out from behind his keyboards to get the audience clapping, singing and dancing along. The sweet spot of the evening was taken by "Love Meeting Love", a winning, radio-friendly, romantic ballad sung in King's deep tenor, which had couples swaying misty-eyed as they watched.
Although the Brighton Dome crowd was enthusiastically shaking it to the irrestible samba-influenced club vibe of "World Machine", co-written by drummer Phil Gould of the original lineup, in this show the talents of current drummer Pete Ray Biggin seemed somewhat underused. There was no drum solo from him despite his obvious percussive talents, although this would give the show an extra dimension.
However this was more than made up for during extended versions of "The Chinese Way" and a searing, bubbling "Hot Water", both of which incidentally have been more recently remixed and re-recorded by different contemporary producers, so when played live, this made it impossible to stay in your seat.
The strengths of this band are to be found in their live appearances, which also earned them their original reputation.So it looks as if Mark King and Level 42 won't be giving up on that funky thang they do, any time soon.