It’s no secret Ali Campbell loves to visit Hawaii. As lead singer of UB40, he’s performed here numerous times, including trips in 1999, 2004 and 2006 before his departure from the band in 2008. Even after he left, he was back at Aloha Tower in 2010 as a solo act.
But what might come as a surprise to fans getting ready for tonight’s sold-out Honolulu concert is that nearly a decade after Campbell played two shows at the Waikiki Shell with UB40, he sounded just as good — if not better — on Thursday at Blaisdell Arena alongside original band members Astro Wilson and Mickey Virtue.
Other than a six-minute break between their main set and three-song encore, UB40 Featuring Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue performed for two hours straight. They played a wide-ranging list of songs that ranged from UB40’s earliest album, 1980’s “Signing Off,” to 2014’s “Silhouette,” the first new material the trio released after Astro rejoined Campbell and Virtue in 2013.
Of course, plenty of tracks off 1983’s “Labour of Love” and 1989’s “Labour of Love II” made Thursday’s set, which featured a seven-piece band to back up Campbell on guitar and Virtue on keyboard. Astro was the energetic hype man on stage, providing a vital missing link to complete the true UB40 experience some fans might have noticed was missing from Campbell’s 2010 visit. Along with helping to shoulder the load on vocals, Astro’s frequent trips from one end of the Blaisdell stage to the other to connect and interact with fans were the perfect complement to Campbell’s posting up front and center with his guitar.
Campbell and crew stuck to “Labour of Love II” early on, getting the Blaisdell crowd dancing with “Here I Am,” “Homely Girl,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “Groovin” before easing back a bit with more obscure songs (“One in Ten,” “Rat in Mi Kitchen,” “Would I Lie to You”) and selections off “Silhouette” that were less familiar to Hawaii fans. Still, one of the great things about UB40 is you don’t need to recognize all their music to keep moving with the band’s rocksteady grooves, and it’s never very long before they return to more familiar territory.
With such a deep and diverse discography, it’s inevitable some fans will leave a UB40 show disappointed they didn’t get to hear their favorite song. At the same time, everyone there knew not to move the first time the band left the stage on Thursday. There was no way Campbell would get out of there alive without singing about a certain type of alcoholic beverage!
Sure enough, after leading off with “Food for Thought” and “Kingston Town,” UB40 Featuring Ali Campbell, Astro and Mickey Virtue did the right thing and transformed the Blaisdell into a karaoke joint with “Red Red Wine.”
Campbell might be celebrating his 57th birthday next month, but if he’s able to keep performing at this high a level with Astro by his side, don’t be surprised to see them back here on stage in another 10 years.
Jason Genegabus has covered the local entertainment, nightlife, music and bar scenes since 2001. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at 808ne.ws/in-the-mix-posts.