Level 42




live review


London Hammersmith Odeon

I MERELY anticipated that Level 42 would be as bland on stage as they usually are on record. This was not the case. ‘Chinese Way’ opened their set like peal of thunder. That song burst out into something wider and brighter than its vinyl counterpart. A big pressure cooker of rhythm and energy controlled with accuracy and finesse. Astonishing!

Level 42 frequently scaled highs that thrilled me but almost as regularly ploughed troughs which bored me. They seem to hover in a strange limbo between the mesmeric and the soporific. They can start a song with a tingle and expand it into a seismic bang. But just as easily they can lapse into idle repetition, prosaically acknowledging a tune without a tremor of excitement.

Compositionally Level 42 have the qualities of strong deodorant and powerful bleach. They destroy unpleasant odours and seek out any shitty bits which might be hiding in the corners of their music. Their material is thoroughly refined and then presented with an immaculate clarity. A clarity which equates with cleanliness evident, on their discs.

Live, and at their best, they tear apart – through noise, dynamism, colour – this restriction. Imagine the force they'd be if they did it all the time.

Mark King's boy next door vocal also grows into a confident, almost commanding power. He offers a near elegant rendition of ‘Leaving Me Now’ a piece placed strategically as a melodic/romantic contrast to the otherwise hour-long set of rattling funkdoms.

But he's a front person in the token sense. Never a ‘pop personality’. Level 42 are a group from whom no personalities emerge: They contain individuals with virtuoso capabilities and amalgamate them into a joy of sound totality. A whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.

With this in mind it was sad that they rounded off their encores with a collection of solos. All fine (I suppose) but somehow anathema to the overall aura. And a teeny bit showbizzy.

But they earned the benefit of the doubt I'd arrived with. Surprising it was, bland it wasn't.


mick sinclair

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