"This song goes back to 1980 when we were all 8," quipped UB40 guitarist Robin Campbell at the 9:30 club Saturday night. A short while later, as the English band essayed "King," it did seem hard to believe that nearly 20 years have passed since the song was recorded. UB40 certainly showed no signs of age.
Moving with an easy grace that made early material still sound trenchant and more recent pieces such as "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" relevant, the band grooved into the early hours. Perhaps because they're Stateside working on "Labour of Love III," the latest installment in their recordings of favorites, and the concert's opener was Jamaican legends the Skatalites, the evening seemed unusually rooted to classic '60s and '70s grooves.
Campbell and his brother Ali, the lead singer, served as twin signposts as the band (swollen to 10 members for live shows) kicked off with 1981's "One in Ten" and churned through close to 20 tunes by set's end. Highlights included a version of Freddie McGregor's "Mr. Fix It," Bob Marley's "Soul Rebel" and two tunes written by the little-known Ken Boothe, "Crying Over You" and the propulsive "Train Is Coming."
Wisely, the UBs didn't ignore the pop-based melodies that garnered them their greatest U.S. audience, offering the swaying crowd "Red Red Wine" and "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)." There were few refusals.