Paul Weller Honors Soul Heroes at New York’s Apollo Theater
by: Kenneth Partridge
As a longtime member of Britain’s mod subculture, Paul Weller is well-versed in the transcendent powers of American soul music. Saturday night, the legendary English rocker made a pilgrimage to that genre’s most sacred temple, the Apollo Theater, where he kicked off a two-night New York City run.
“So many of our heroes have played here,” Weller said of the Harlem landmark. “We just hope we do it justice.”
Backed by five young musicians with matching mod haircuts — cropped on top with tufts of hair coming down over the ears — Weller’s performance covered his career from the ’70s to the present. While the singer and guitarist focused on latter-day solo tunes, he also burned through three by the Jam, his beloved punk-era answer to The Who, and one, ‘Shout to the Top,’ by The Style Council, the slick, suave, soulful pop group he fronted throughout the ’80s.
Weller also paid tribute to one of the countless legends to have graced the Apollo stage, offering his unique take on ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’ — the Motown classic originally recorded by Marvin Gaye. Seated at an electric piano, Weller played the song slow and slightly somber, changing its tone from celebratory to reflective, and doing his best to wrestle the tune back from James Taylor, whose soulless rendition remains an easy-listening staple.
Despite his love of ’60s music and fashion, Weller isn’t one to dwell on the past, as he proved by filling Saturday’s two-hour set with material from his latest release, ‘Wake Up the Nation’ — a diverse collection nominated earlier this year for Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize.
Weller opened the show with one of the disc’s standouts, ‘Aim High’ — a ’70s-style soul burner replete with strings and wah-wah guitar. Later, he grooved through the psych-rock haze of ‘Trees’ and bashed out the punky ‘Fast Car, Slow Traffic,’ which could have easily fit in on the first Jam album, ‘In the City.’
Anyone going to see Weller in 2010 is most likely a serious fan, and while the Jam tunes — ‘Pretty Green,’ ‘Start!’ and ‘Art School’ — proved most effective at catapulting people out of their seats, lesser known solo numbers such as ‘Come On, Let’s Go’ — a 2005 power-pop rewrite of the Undertones’ punk gem ‘Teenage Kicks’ — also had folks dancing in the aisles.
Based on the set list from his Los Angeles performance, Weller was expected to close with ‘That’s Entertainment,’ which is one of the Jam’s most enduring hits. Unfortunately, his second encore ran long and the Apollo’s 11PM curfew brought the night to a premature, albeit memorable, end. That’s showbiz.