Unlike my usual dubious attitude towards 80s bands still performing when they’re well into their fifties, assuming they’re probably past their time and just need an extra buck or two to head into retirement with, I went into Sage Gateshead knowing I would be in for a musical treat. Being such accomplished multi-instrumentalists from the off, which is something you never really lose, I knew the musicality of the performance if nothing else would still be to an excellent standard.
And it was. Mark King still plays the slap bass with such elegant ease it seems to him to be as menial a task as tying his shoe laces or unlocking his front door. He started out as a drummer, which explains why he plays the bass so percussively, so much so in fact that I honestly don’t know how his thumb is still attached to his hand. To play such complex rhythms on the bass whilst singing the melodies of some of the best funk numbers of the 80s with, let’s just say a now quite mature yet still able voice, is a talent not to be under-praised. I mean sure, he’s had a lifetime to perfect the art, but it’s still pretty fucking impressive.
Mark King still plays the slap bass with such elegant ease
Aside from Mark King, there was the return of Mike Lindup to the ensemble, which was definitely a good decision, as he’s familiar with the songs and offers the original vocal to the hit ‘Sun Goes Down (Livin’ It Up)’, whilst serenading us beautifully on the piano on tracks like ‘It’s Over’. The drummer certainly lived up to the size of his kit (the biggest I have ever seen) and the brass section were cutting some extraordinary shapes behind King, despite that the trombonist was in fact Richard Osman. The guitarist was King’s brother, Nathan, and although the familial connection was evident in the way their playing complimented each other, some of his playing and soloing was slightly underwhelming. Having said this, he did well considering his predecessors are among the likes of Allan Holdsworth and Boon Gould- very large shoes to fill.
In terms of the set, it was shorter than I was expecting, but I think that was good thing, I felt neither short-changed nor that they had out-stayed their welcome. There was a good dose of the old and the new, all played to the same tight and well-rehearsed standard (although admittedly their ability to play new stuff was limited, because the Eternity album the tour is named after isn’t actually finished yet- LOL). Numbers like ‘Running In The Family’ and ‘Lessons in Love’ got every tipsy middle-aged woman up and doing that rigid yet beautiful left-right sway that every one of them seems to know how to do, eventually followed by their husbands after realising that you can’t listen to this level of funkiness and not at least tap your foot. And any audience engagement lost by less familiar songs was quickly regained by the likes of ‘Chinese Way’ and ‘The Chant Has Begun’- which saw every member of the band take up some sticks and have a good old whack on the drums.
I left the Sage in a crowd of these over 40 year old punters feeling both elated with grooviness, but also with a sigh of worry. If there are only a handful of people our age going to see their shows, who’ll be listening to them in ten, twenty years’ time? Such expertise in their craft and passion for their art deserves longevity in their legacy, which is why every funk-lover, wannabe bass player, and general admirer of good quality music needs to listen to Level 42 asap.