A Physical Presence, released in 1985, is the first live album from the British quartet Level 42. Recorded at various small European club venues, A Physical Presence is an impressive document of the band's dynamic live performances, and the live renditions of many of the songs improve on the original studio recordings.
Much of the material on A Physical Presence comes from the band's first four studio albums, and several of Level 42's minor British hits ("Hot Water," "The Chinese Way") are included. Physical's highlights, however, are the blistering live takes on lesser-known non-single releases. For example, "Kansas City Milkman," which originally appeared in a somewhat lackluster version on the 1984 release True Colours, is given new life in concert; the version here is slightly faster and more energetic than the original. "Eyes Waterfalling" (originally from the 1982 album The Pursuit of Accidents) is given the same treatment and features Mark King's mind-boggling thumb-slapping bass-playing technique, which is all the more impressive considering his simultaneous role as lead vocalist. King is an amazing musician, but his fellow bandmates are no less capable; vocalist and keyboardist Mike Lindup, drummer Phil Gould, and guitarist Boon Gould give first-rate performances. Level 42's studio efforts (particularly on the early albums) tend to suffer from over-production, barely giving the musicians room to breathe. That certainly isn't the case here; on A Physical Presence, Level 42 truly shines, combining energy, talent, and songcraft to breathtaking effect.
Although the sound quality isn't exactly stellar, A Physical Presence is still far better than Level 42's 1996 effort Live at Wembley. That album was recorded while the band was touring in support of its worst studio effort, Staring at the Sun, and contains entirely too much material from that anemic 1988 release. Live at Wembley also suffers from the absence of the Gould brothers and from the obviously less intimate arena setting; by the time Live at Wembley was recorded, Level 42 had become a major U.K. success. Mark King also became more of a show-off than a musician, and his half-hearted performance on Live at Wembley makes the album virtually unlistenable. A Physical Presence is a MUCH better indication of Level 42's capabilities in a live setting, capturing the band at the top of its form.