Level 42 bring back a time their funk-heavy brand of pop ruled the airwaves

Singer-bassist Mark King (right) with members of Level 42, a jazz-funk band.
Singer-bassist Mark King (right) with members of Level 42, a jazz-funk band. PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL

Singapore International Jazz Festival

Level 42

Marina Bay Sands/Sunday (March 6)

Level 42 singer and bassist Mark King's thumb is said to be insured for three million pounds. At their set at the Sing Jazz festival, the audience could definitely see why that appendage could be worth that much.

King was a monster on the electric bass, slapping the four strings and thumbing his way through a kinetic hour-long set that included both the British jazz-funk band's pop chart hits from the 1980s and tunes from recent releases.

Lessons In Love, that 1986 staple of retro playlists, has its hooks and all but what would the song be without King's driving, percussive bassline anchoring it all?

The live sound system was appropriately heavy on the bottom-end - it was so bassy in fact that the throbbings took some getting used to.

Before their mainstream breakthrough, and the 31 million albums sold worldwide, Level 42 were a band better known for their chops than accessible melodies. On Sunday, King and his LED-lit bass seemed only too eager to showcase their penchant for lengthy instrumental breaks, which was apt given that it was a jazz festival.

Of course, catchy sing-alongs were not neglected, either.

While King's deep voice sounded a little heftier than in the band's early days, co-singer and keyboardist Mike Lindup's falsetto was a perfect foil, harmonising on familiar tracks such as Running In The Family and Something About You or taking lead vocals on Starchild and The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up).

The 36-year-old band seemed to be in high spirits. There was a new dynamic to hearing them live, thanks mostly to twin dynamism of drummer Pete Ray Biggin and a horns trio.

Trombonist Nichol Thomson, trumpeter Dan Carpenter and saxophone player Sean Freeman brought a peppy, new dimension to the band's sound, layered on top of Lindup's keyboards and guitarist Nathan King's lead lines.

The lively trio were prone to hamming it up too, prancing around the stage or joining King in executing synchronised dance moves.

Bearded drummer Biggin, who joined the group in 2010, was flashy and forceful, embellishing the rhythms with speedy fills and twirling his sticks constantly.

Such showmanship could earn the band some new fans.

But, despite some young faces in the crowd, the majority were adults who would have enjoyed the band's biggest hits when they were mainstream stars.

It's unlikely that the type of music they play - no matter how lively - will ever hit the contemporary pop charts today. They didn't seem to mind or care - for that one hour on Sundat, Level 42 brought the audience back to a time when their funk-heavy brand of pop ruled the airwaves.

dinohadi@sph.com.sg