Singer Marked By A Sense Of History
By JON PARELES
From The New York Times
Even as a teenager leading a punk-rock band Paul Weller looked back. His 1970s band, the Jam, was openly fond of Mod-era British Invasion songwriting from a decade earlier. Since then Mr. Weller has maintained a long, steady career in Britain, where he’s fondly known as the Modfather. His concert on Sunday night at the Best Buy Theater was sold out; many audience members had British accents.
Mr. Weller’s music has broadened since the 1970s. He followed his revivalist instincts toward soul and disco with his 1980s band, the Style Council, and into a solo career since the 1990s that has had him delving into garage-rock, psychedelia, American-style roots-rock and wherever else his tastes led him. Those tastes veered away from what American radio wanted, perhaps because he was an Englishman trying styles already available from American musicians. But Mr. Weller’s 10 solo albums since 1992 have all reached the British top 10, and in 2009 he won the Brit Award, the British equivalent of the Grammy, as best male solo artist.
Mr. Weller’s two-hour set traced a long and coherent career, from the sarcastically righteous leader of the Jam to the more disillusioned but still scrappy songwriter behind his most recent album, “Wake Up the Nation” (Yep Roc). Lean and vigorous at 52, with a voice only slightly gruffer than it was in 1977, Mr. Weller wore a black T-shirt, black pants and black-and-white shoes as he led his tambourine-shaking five-man band through his own virtual tour of rock history, with all but one song — “Let It Be Me,” a 1960 hit for the Everly Brothers — written himself.
There were boogie-rockers like the piano-pounding “Moonshine” and “From the Floorboards Up”; garage-rock like “22 Dreams”; the guitar-scrubbing disco of Style Council’s “Shout to the Top”; the Beatles homages of the Jam’s “Start!” and “Strange Town”; “No Tears to Cry,” which recalled Phil Spector’s Righteous Brothers productions; and “One Black Star,” a song Mr. Weller described, correctly, as “a little psychedelic tango.” One song, “Trees,” riffled through five rock eras as it told a woman’s life story.
The songs didn’t always escape the shadows of their models. But they were connected by the fine-toothed rasp of Mr. Weller’s voice and by a particularly British pugnacity that runs through the lyrics: recognizing the inevitability of disappointment, vowing to persist anyway. It spanned the Jam’s bitter media critique, “That’s Entertainment,” and a new song, “That Dangerous Age,” about comfortable grown-ups longing for excitement. The grown-up Mr. Weller has his thrills: in the fourth decade of his career he’s still an unregenerate rocker.