There is nothing better than a SoCal summer day with some classic reggae, but inside a cave near Nashville with UB40, The Original Wailers, Maxi Priest, and Big Mountain is pretty damn awesome! For SoCal though, you can catch these four legendary artists on September 18th when they hit the equally legendary Hollywood Bowl for an evening of reggae jams.
The four acts are on the road as part of UB40’s Bigga Baggariddim tour which has been crossing North America before heading to the UK and Australia. It is also the first time England’s UB40 has been back on our shores since 2019. When we spoke to UB40 founding member Robin Campbell and new vocalist Matt Doyle recently, they promised to bring us a fabulous show – which they did – and intended to enjoy truck stops across the country – which, according to their Insta, they are!
San Diego’s Big Mountain opened the show with, “Are you ready for some reggae?!” and the diverse crowd gave a cheer. Front-man Joaquin “Quino” McWhinney kicked things off with the cover of “Get Together,” and the lyrics “Come on, people now, Smile on your brother, Everybody get together, Try to love one another right now” truly fit the mood of their performance. After the song, he said, “Reggae brings people together,” which the crowd seemed to agree with as they swayed and danced, arms waving high above their heads.
They did an original, “I’m Calling You Out,” and Quino said, “Reggae is love,” before going into Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” which drew a huge response from the audience. A cover of “Where Do the Children Play?” was followed by an introduction of the band members and the announcement that the next song would be their new single, released this Christmas: “Hotel California.” It was a perfect version of the song and I look forward to purchasing it.
Quino asked the crowd, “Are you ready for the big tune?” before they launched into their 1994 radio hit, “Baby I Love Your Way.” The cheers showed people were in fact ready for it, and maybe some of them even remembered it was featured in the movie “Reality Bites.” I really enjoyed Big Mountain as they had such a great, chill vibe and I look forward to plugging some of their songs into my playlist.
Up next was British-born Jamaican Maxi Priest, and his band came out loud! They started off with the song that launched his career, his version of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” His brand of reggae fusion has made him made him one of the top artists in the genre, and really, his sound was the first of its kind. It has brought him Grammy nominations and his energetic performance can be describe as reggae, hip hop, R&B, rock, and really… just Maxi Priest! New Kidz joined him on vocals for much of the performance and hyped up the crowd on multiple occasions, even leading an “exercise class.” There was a lot of dancing, much arm waving, plenty of jumping, even some sensual pelvic action happening. These guys might steal your girl, but you won’t care because you will be having a blast.
Maxi said he felt blessed more than once and was appreciative of the crowd, and ran through originals like “My Pillow” and “Believe in Love.” There was a lot of crowd singing, call and response, and at one point, he had everyone turn on their phone lights to light up the entire cave for an extra cool atmosphere.
In the early 2000s, there was a rumor Maxi would front UB40, but it was only for a song collaboration, so I found it interesting that Maxi Priest and UB40 are the only two British reggae acts to have an American Billboard number one song and here they are on tour together! Maxi wrapped his set with the song that gave him that number one in 1990, “Close to You.” The fans seemed to enjoy the energy and party vibe of his set and gave him an appreciative send off.
Halfway through the show it was time for The Original Wailers, and wow! I was impressed! Al Anderson, the American guitarist chosen by Bob Marley when he went solo in 1974 – which means Anderson’s work includes the 10 times platinum “Legend” album – greeted the crowd. The first song, “I Shot the Sheriff,” drew a huge response right away and once again, the cave had that chill, swaying vibe. They played hit after hit: “Stir It Up,” “Could You Be Loved,” and “Three Little Birds” which had the crowd taking over singing duty on the chorus. Lead vocalist Chet Samuel is fantastic and sounded flawless on the Marley tunes as well as their own songs (they recently released a new song, “ Song of the Divine”).
After “Buffalo Soldier,” they closed their set with one of my favorites, “Is This Love,” and Samuel performed the final verse without music – just bare vocals – and it was stunning. A wonderful finish for The Original Wailers.
The show had not been doing much with lighting for the first three acts, so I was unprepared when the lights went down and an excited murmur started in the room, er, cave. The members of UB40 came striding in from the back of the cave, through the crowd, and the lights started flashing like a “regular” concert; my excitement shot up with everyone else and the guys commanded our attention immediately!
The music started right away with “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” and each horn player would solo a little, work the crowd, and switch places which gave a taste of what the remainder of the show would be – a well-orchestrated performance. I have seen UB40 several times and have always enjoyed them, and perhaps that is why; they are professionals, in sync, having a great time, and know their stuff.
With Matt Doyle as the new voice, I have to say – phenomenal! He truly sounds amazing and it IS UB40. He looks comfortable onstage and fits in perfectly. He took them through “Sing Our Own Song” and during “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” which got a big response, they paused mid-song and the crowd erupted in cheers until they jumped back into the song.
Founding member Robin Campbell greeted the audience with “This is weird! Playing in a cave is weird! We’re going to play some old tunes and some new tunes, and this is our new vocalist Matt. We wrote this song together” before they started the song that became the anthem for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, “Champion.”
Doyle and Campbell got a singing break as founding member and percussionist Norman Hassan took vocal duties for “Broken.” Campbell then explained the tour was supporting their 2021 album of collaborations, “Bigga Baggariddim.” “With an album of collaborations, you cannot bring all of the collaborators with you on tour, but we do have one with us as Matt collaborated on it with KIOKO, his previous band – before we nicked him!” That collab was the track “You Don’t Call Anymore” and it fits into the UB40 repertoire just right!
Once again, our photographer Stephanie was able to enlighten me on something. As I marveled at Martin Meredith playing saxophone AND eliciting steel guitar sounds from his keyboards during a song I did not know, Stephanie, “Oh yea, that is ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,’ a song made famous by Willie Nelson.” Teamwork makes the dream work.
Speaking of teamwork, I was once again struck by how in sync UB40 was onstage. They would rotate around each other without looking, swapping space, never bumping into each other or the many musical instruments, never missing a beat.
A trio of baby songs – “Cherry Oh Baby,” “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” and “Baby” – led us into “Red Red Wine” and EVERY SINGLE PERSON in our section recorded the entire song. Couples that were together BOTH recorded it with their own phones! But hey, it is THE song we often associate with UB40. They have just released the new version in preparation of their upcoming album, “UB45,” which will celebrate their 45 years as a band.
The evening was winding down and they paid tribute to their late sax player, Brian Travers, who passed away last year. In his honor, they played “Kingston Town.” For their final song, they played one of my all-time favorite songs, their version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and it was… perfect!
Another wonderful UB40 show and they are headed your way, SoCal! Catch UB40, The Original Wailers, Maxi Priest, and Big Mountain September 17th in Bakersfield, September 18th in Los Angeles (Hollywood Bowl), and September 23rd in San Diego. It is a show you cannot miss!