In the first of three shows at the Greek, UB40 offered insubstantial reggae muzak peppered with lame sound effects, dumb lyrics (“reggae music — can’t refuse it”) and blatant audience pandering, making for a performance that can be politely described as disappointing.
The octet, based in Birmingham, England, formed in 1980 as a politically oriented musical outlet for eight bored youths. The band, whose name comes from a U.K. unemployment form, was quickly embraced by college and alternative music fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
The group’s charged and often bitter tone, masked by smooth reggae stylings, was embraced by a young generation disillusioned by economic recession and disco music.
But success does funny things to people. UB40 has shifted into Las Vegas mode , both on record and in concert, becoming the Wayne Newton of reggae. A string of lightweight pop hits, most of which are cover tunes, has brought the band a new, passive audience, one that doesn’t ask to be challenged. Which, naturally, the band never threatens to do.
After a surprisingly sharp version of the Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” UB40 sleepwalked through a set of sanitized, emotionless reggae-lite.
The band has a talent for taking a lovely song and coating it with a pseudo-reggae sheen that hides the original’s appeal. Case in point: UB40’s take on the Elvis Presley hit”Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
In all fairness, a mid-show seg did offer a brief flash of brilliance. The Virgin group’s catchy cover of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine,” the smooth, horn-filled “Desert Sand” and the very sexy, down-tempo “Bring Me Your Cup” were enjoyable and, collectively, served as the entire concert’s highlight.
The show’s opening act, A&M’s promising Gin Blossoms, was another story altogether. Offering cuts from its top-40 album, “New Miserable Experience,” this pop/alternative five-piece group lit a musical fire under the Greek crowd.
The country-tinged “I Still Love Her,” the guitar-heavy “My Hands Are Tied” and current hit single “Hey Jealousy,” featuring Robin Wilson’s unique vocals, were standouts in a set that, despite numerous technical glitches, did the band proud.