UB40 proved itself an egalitarian band in both the best and worst senses of the word at the Warner Theatre Saturday night. The Birmingham, England, octet (plus two new horn players) played its traditional reggae with the tight unison dance groove that only comes when every member embraces an agreed-upon role. On the other hand, the band lacked the outstanding singer or soloist that might give a focus to the music.
UB40 has improved its level of playing dramatically since its amateur origins six years ago; when the five-man horn section locked into the big, punchy riffs of "UB44," it sounded like the best dance band in England. But when it went into extended dub versions with Michael Virtue layering synth effects and Astro laying down the rap, UB40 ventured into a dance band's danger zone: monotony. Neither Ali Campbell's pleasant singing nor his brother Robin's guitar solos were enough to make one forget the orginal versions of Bob Marley's "Keep On Moving" and the Slickers' "Johnny Too Bad."
By contrast, Pablo Moses' opening set boasted too many individual performances and not enough unity. Playing with a pickup band of New York reggae muscians, the popular Jamaican singer proved witty and entertaining but never hit a sure groove and never lifted his vocals to the level of passion. In fact, he was often upstaged by Jymi Graham, who played an exciting hybrid of rock and reggae in his guitar solos.