Paul Weller Is Stellar At Two NYC Gigs
By John Curley
Paul Weller hit New York City this past weekend for two shows as part of his very brief U.S. tour. (The only other stop was in Los Angeles last week.) The Modfather’s Manhattan shows took place at Harlem’s legendary soul venue the Apollo Theater on Saturday, November 6th and the Best Buy Theater in Times Square on Sunday, November 7th. Judging from the accents that I heard at both shows, it appeared that many fans flew over from the UK for the NYC shows. Weller is on tour in support of his latest studio album, which is titled Wake Up The Nation. The album was nominated for the UK’s prestigious Mercury Prize earlier this year.
Weller is a big soul music aficionado, and he spoke at the Apollo gig about how many of his musical heroes had performed on the stage there. Soul music was the preferred music of the Mods, and Weller has long subscribed to the Mod way of life in both his music and his fashion sense. His amplifiers are decorated with the red, white, and blue Mod target symbol.
Weller’s excellent backing band includes his longtime collaborator Steve Cradock (who also plays with the UK band Ocean Colour Scene) on guitar as well as Andy Lewis on bass, Steve Pilgrim on drums, and Andy Crofts on keyboards. There was also a second keyboardist that performed on some of the songs.
Given the venue, most fans in attendance expected Weller to perform a few soul covers in his set. He only did one, a moving rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” Apart from that, he played a regular set that featured the usual mix of songs from his 30-plus years in the music business by his old bands The Jam and The Style Council as well as his two decades as a solo artist. It’s really surprising, and more than a little disappointing, that he didn’t drop some of the more dour solo material from the set and add a few more soul and R&B covers. He covered “Heatwave” by Martha and the Vandellas as a member of The Jam. That would’ve been a nice choice over some of the solo material performed instead, like the unreleased (and unremarkable) “Paper Chase.” It was an opportunity lost, in my opinion.
The biggest reactions from the crowd were for the songs by The Jam. “Pretty Green,” “Start!,” and “Art School” all received thunderous cheers when they were performed. “Art School,” in particular, had the crowd up on its feet. It’s from The Jam’s 1977 debut album, In The City, and was performed by Weller and his band with every bit of the ferocity of the original recording. It was a thrilling thing to witness. Andy Crofts came out from behind the keyboards for the song, playing guitar and trading off on the song’s lead vocal with Weller. “Shout To The Top,” from Weller’s Style Council days also received a nice hand from the crowd.
The solo material that Weller did at the show was a mixed bag, from the incendiary “The Changingman” to the mellow “No Tears To Cry.” To his credit, Weller is not afraid to be experimental at an age (52) by which many of his contemporaries from the British punk/New Wave invasion of the second half of the 1970s have long since settled into comfortable mediocrity. And he’s still capable of writing Jam-style rockers, as the title track to Wake Up The Nation can attest.
The concert at the Apollo ended rather abruptly at exactly 11 p.m. after Weller performed “Porcelain God.” It was an odd way to end the show, not the uptempo number that the audience expected. There may have been an 11 p.m. curfew. Weller’s guitar tech walked onstage after “Porcelain God” had finished, whispered into Weller’s ear, and suddenly the show was over.
While Weller and his band gave their all during their two-hour set, their efforts were undermined by the worst sound that I have ever experienced at a concert. The sound mix was abysmal, and the volume was far too loud for a smallish venue like the Apollo. Quite a few people in the crowd were complaining about the volume. It really ruined what should have been a triumphant night for Weller.
The following night’s show, at the Best Buy Theater, was much more enjoyable. The show was loud, but the Best Buy Theater is a cavernous venue and it swallowed up the sound. The Best Buy show also featured a stronger set, opening with a storming version of “Peacock Suit” and including two additional very-well-received numbers from Weller’s time with The Jam, “Strange Town” and the show’s closer “That’s Entertainment.” The Best Buy show also featured an absolutely blistering version of “Woodcutter’s Son” that got a huge reaction from the crowd.
Weller performed for approximately two hours at both concerts and proved that he is still one of the best live acts around, despite having already passed the half century mark.
Opening both shows were the five-piece, London-based folk-rock act Erland and the Carnival. Their sound is somewhat reminiscent of the UK band The Coral. They were excellent, and are a band that is worth a listen. Their 30-minute opening sets got a big reaction from the crowds at both venues.