UB40 at 44: Alright, fair enough, I’ve got to hold my hands up and admit that I haven’t kept up with the internal politics and basic goings on in the world of UB40 over the past couple of decades. I was aware that percussionist/vocalist Astro and saxophonist Brian Travers had both died last year, and that clearly sucks.
But I was not aware that vocalist Ali Campbell had left the band (with Astro) in 2008, and had been replaced by his brother Duncan. Then Duncan suffered a stroke in 2021 and was forced to retire, and now former Kioko vocalist Matt Doyle is fronting the band. Which is a bit mad, because Doyle looks quite a lot like a young Ali Campbell (when they first strolled onto the Hollywood Bowl stage, I thought ‘Fucking hell, he looks GREAT!”)
Oh, and obviously the whole thing has been confused by Ali Campbell having his own version of the band, called UB40 Featuring Ali Campbell. Which is absolutely tragic, in an LA Guns sort of way.
So anyway, reggae night at the Bowl was the perfect opportunity to catch up on all of that soap opera bullshit, but also to get reacquainted with the band’s music. Because back in the day, when they were swinging, UB40 performed a service by introducing reggae to the mainstream charts. Doyle, to his credit, does a fine job on great old tunes such as “Cherry Oh Baby” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (originally recorded with the late Robert Palmer). He’s not much of a speaker — he leaves the banter to Robin Campbell — but he undeniably has a set of pipes.
The set falls flat in the middle when they rattle through what seems like a ton of newer songs. Fair play to them for trying not to turn into a nostalgia act, but the likes of “You Don’t Call Anymore” and “Champion” (recorded for the Commonwealth Games) are sadly dull.
The set livens right up at the end when they offer up the skank-heavy “Johnny Too Bad,” then “Red Red Wine,” then close with “Kingston Town” and “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” They did, at least, leave on a high.
Earlier in the night, we missed locals Big Mountain but caught Maxi Priest and his killer version of “Wild World.” Meanwhile, there might only be one Wailer in the Original Wailers (and Al Anderson wasn’t an original), but they surely deserved more than a four song set. I mean shit, they were able to pull out “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Stir it Up,” “Could You Be Loved,” and “Three Little Birds” and then just leave. Interestingly, I saw the Marley Brothers pay tribute to their dad at the Cali Vibes Festival in Long Beach earlier on the year and that was better, but this was still great. And hey, some Bob Marley is better than no Bob Marley.
UB40 at 44
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