English Energy, Motown Rhythms
By BEN RATLIFF
Published: September 11, 2008
The New York Times
Almost 30 years ago, when he was in the Jam, Paul Weller described his influences as the Sex Pistols and Motown. The Jam ended in 1982, and the Sex Pistols are gone from his music. But Motown’s still there — a generalized, rock Motown, Anglicized through the Who and Traffic and the Northern soul nightclub culture of the ’70s and ’80s.
A famous Motown beat, with the snare on all four quarter notes, anchors a lot of Mr. Weller’s songs. It’s an aggressive, energizing, crowding beat, one that leaves you no room — it wants your time and cooperation — and it kept surfacing at his show at the Nokia Theater on Wednesday.
In England Mr. Weller is nearly a national hero, and his records enter the pop charts. Here he’s for Anglophiles, more or less, and his audience has never left him.
You might think he’d be lukewarm to Americans in person: we are a sure but limited concern. Instead he was manic, shuttling around the stage to change guitars, spit, mop his head or take a few pulls on a cigarette, which he repeatedly threw on the floor before his sung verses and snatched up again during someone else’s solo.
His energy on Wednesday, the concision of his band and his strong, exact guitar playing helped make up for the fact that a lot of the songs in the set — many of the best he has written since the early ’90s — carried creaky rock clichés, comforting and authentic ’60s chord changes or grooves or song structures. They sounded, to use that withering phrase, well crafted.
Mr. Weller’s new record, “22 Dreams” (Yep Roc), breaks his pattern, at one level casting around into folk and jazz and experimental electronic music — all modeled on ’60s precedents — and at another pushing into electric-guitar feedback and slower, deeper rock grooves. The show included the album’s new single, “Echoes Round the Sun,” leaking with guitar noise, and its title track, which uncomfortably echoes the Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night).” But it didn’t go off into the trancelike or weird new stuff, the putative tributes to Pentangle and Alice Coltrane and the abstract improvising collective AMM.
And that’s really too bad, because this was an audience so loyal it deserved to be tested. By the time Mr. Weller finally got around to his Jam hits, in two encores — “That’s Entertainment” and “The Eton Rifles,” with Kelly Jones of Stereophonics joining the band on guitar and vocals — nearly the whole theater sang along lustily. Mr. Weller is an expert rock star: rather than bathe in self-congratulation, he gave the audience a stiff nod.
“Shout To The Top” Courtesy Of TCB Walsh
“The Butterfly Collector” Courtesy Of TCB Walsh