After four more nights of this, perhaps all of these songs from this constant creator will feel like old friends.
Set List Courtesy Of Paul aka Pretty Green! Cheers!
By: Julian Marszalek
“Well, I didn’t hate it,” sighs the fella next to The Quietus at the end of Paul Weller’s first set at The Roundhouse. This is the inaugural night of The Modfather’s five-night stand at the legendary North London venue, and the Woking wonder has elected to play his new solo album, the splendid Sonik Kicks, in its entirety almost 12 hours before it hits the shelves.
Following on from his creative rebirth with 22 Dreams and the award-winning and Mercury Prize-nominated Wake Up The Nation, Weller has once again refused to look back at former glories and has followed his muse into uncharted waters. For his new album, this means a flirtation with motorik beats, psychedelia, sequencers and a Technicolor approach to his work. The end result is another in a line of career highlights.
Not that any of this should be a surprise to anyone, let alone the legions of fans who have slavishly followed him since The Jam first appeared in the wake of punk’s first flush of life. This, after all, was the man who broke that trio up at the height of their fame and continued to confound expectations by joining with Merton Mick for their singular adventures with The Style Council.
In the upstairs bar, less charitable voices are making themselves heard.
“Shocking!” exclaims one aging fan to his equally apoplectic friend. “Fucking shocking! I saw him at the Albert Hall in the 80s and if he’d have done that then we’d have taken the fucking stage!”
What could be the problem, wonders the Quietus? Could it be Weller’s desire to seek out more experimental avenues and take his audience with him?
“That wasn’t experimental,” comes the reply. “That was fucking shit!”
Counter opinions are being expressed. “I’m happy for him to take me somewhere new,” explains a supporter of Weller’s as waits for his beer. “If I wanted to hear just the old stuff then I’d stay at home and listen to the albums.”
Just 45 minutes earlier, a beaming Paul Weller bounds on to the stage. From the moment he straps his guitar on the and the squelching sequencers usher in the squalling psychedelia of ‘Green’, it’s damn obvious that this is where Weller’s head is at. So why the negative and shocked reaction from certain quarters? Speaking to the Quietus two years ago, Weller said, “I’ve opened up to so many forms of music, and I think the older I’ve got the more open-minded I’ve become, and I just wanna hear everything these days, because there’s so little time, and I just wanna hear as much as I can really.”
Weller’s newly expanded musical horizons are much in evidence, and song titles such as ‘Kling I Klang’ drop huge hints as to what he’s been listening to and soaking up. Elsewhere, Weller’s discovery of Neu! is displayed on the propulsive Dragonfly and deliciously hypnotic Around The Lake, but perhaps the biggest surprise comes in the form of ‘Study In Blue’. Joined by his wife, Hannah, on vocals, the track is, to these ears, the least satisfying moment on Sonik Kicks but here its move into an extended reggae work out is both convincing and compelling.
Any dissenters thinking they’re in for an easy ride during the second of tonight’s two sets find themselves equally challenged. The Jam’s ‘English Rose’ opens the acoustic section to huge roars but this proves to be something of a red herring, as Weller steers the rest of his set in favour of material weighted towards his most recent releases. As the final notes of ‘Black River’ fade away, a voice yells out from the rear, “Bring on the old school!” and despite cheers of agreement from blokes whose faces reveal expressions of betrayal, Weller gleefully dives in to ‘Moonshine’, ‘Fast Car/Slow Traffic’ and ‘Wake Up The Nation’.
Tellingly, ‘The Changingman’ receives the biggest cheer of the night though Weller singing, “Numbed by the effect / Aware of the muse / Too in touch with myself / I light the fuse” is clearly lost on those refusing to accept the singer’s embrace of the here and now.
A few people start to head for the exit signs before the end of the gig, but one suspects that for them the climax of ‘Whirlpool’s End’ would have been too little too late. Ultimately, that’s their loss, and it’s hard to fathom why the past is held in such thrall when the present offers such delights. It could well be that a small minority of tonight’s crowd are simply too scared of letting go of the past for fear of acknowledging the present. Not so their hero, an artist only too aware of the passing of time and the inevitability of mortality. Unlike so many artists of his generation who are content to be stuck in some kind of musical variant of Groundhog Day, Paul Weller remains an inquisitive and curious musician. For this alone he should be applauded. But the fact that he’s creating some of the best music of his career and refusing complacency from his audience marks Weller out as talent still worth watching. Where he goes to next is anybody’s guess but whatever it’ll be, it won’t be lazy.
By: Maddy Costa
There’s a splendid moment, 20 minutes into his set, when Paul Weller looks surprised at himself, even a bit coy. It comes at the beginning of Study in Blue, a duet with his wife Hannah, when he picks up a melodica and plays a few tentative notes. Since no man can maintain his dapper mien while blowing down a plastic tube into a toy piano, he discards it at the end of the song. But not before Study in Blue ends with several minutes of dub: not heavy dub, but a luminous, luxuriant dub-lite, in which Weller’s improbably beautiful melodica swirls over a weightless bassline and pattering drums.
Weller, in his impeccable suit and obstinately dreadful haircut (spiky on top, collar-bothering below; a mullet trimmed into a Vespa-ready helmet), is a mod preserved in aspic. For years that translated as stuck in his ways, but since 2008 he has been redefining himself, with a string of albums devoted to musical experimentation. He’s so excited about the new one, Sonik Kicks, that he plays it in full, at a ferocious, full-throttle pace. There is time to address the audience just once, at the beginning of the Kinksy That Dangerous Age, when he laughs off its fumbled start with the words: “First-night nerves.” As if.
The trouble with this focused approach is that the album’s weaker moments are exposed: Paperchase plods mulishly, while Dragonfly, for which Weller plays keyboards, squelches along without finding its shape. The advantage is that it hammers home what a shape-shifting album this is, bounding from the squall of Green and the relentless pounding of Kling I Klang to the jittery strings of spaced-out instrumental Sleep of the Serene and the eerily vibrant psychedelic drone of Drifters.
You appreciate that variety all the more after the interval, when Weller returns for two conventionally shaped sets, one acoustic, one electric. His 17-song selection is stripped of crowd-pleasing nostalgia: he opens with the Jam’s softly sentimental English Rose, but from then on sticks almost exclusively to Sonik Kicks’ immediate predecessors 22 Dreams and Wake Up the Nation, and 1995’s Stanley Road. Songs in the acoustic set are pared back to similitude: only the gurgling Black River retains its weirdness. Whereas the electric set – the curious, Broadway-musical pianisms of Stanley Road itself aside – is huge and meaty, stomping and seething. He hits a jagged peak with Fast Car/Slow Traffic, closes with an explosive Whirlpool’s End, and that’s it. Off he strides, no encore, no looking back.
By: James Lachno
WITH a new album to promote, an army of cultish “Modfather” devotees looking on, and several more headline shows at North London’s Roundhouse to come, this should have been a triumphant night for Paul Weller. But even the middle-aged mods wearing replica feather cuts and two-tone brogues may have left disappointed after a disjointed set from the former Jam and Style Council man, which offered little to justify the praise heaped on his many solo outings.
The five-night Roundhouse run was billed as a showcase for Weller’s 11th studio album, Sonik Kicks, released this week. On the opening night, he first performed the new album in full, before delving into his back catalogue for abridged acoustic and electric mini‑sets.
This sequence started brightly. Weller, as dedicated a follower of fashion as ever, looked trim for his 53 years in a typically sharp suit and tie, and the punchy, spry songs from Sonik Kicks were given a boisterous workout. His considered, occasionally throaty, blue-eyed soul bellow was a commanding focal point amid the busy guitars, keyboards and strings.
Meanwhile, some of the new songs sounded excellent: the staccato chords, instant hooks and prickly social observations of single That Dangerous Age (which had limped into the charts at the undeservedly low position of number 66 earlier that evening), for instance, recalled Weller’s golden years in the early Eighties.
After a short interval, Weller re-appeared wearing a plain button-up T-shirt, and with his acoustic guitar in hand. When the Jam favourite English Rose inspired a mass singalong, hopes were high for a rousing second half. But what followed was uninspiring, as a handful of low-key singles such as All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You) were re-imagined as soggy acoustic ballads.
Fans shuffled uneasily – surely the plugged-in, full-band finale would raise the standard? At first, the renewed vigour made a pleasant change. Yet soon the songs blended into one long, muddy, pounding rhythm-and-blues dirge. Weller’s stage chat – almost totally nonexistent – failed to break up the wearying flow, and while Changing Man and Wake Up the Nation offered some hummable respite, the lack of recognisable hits at the disposal of a man who has had nine top-five albums (including three number ones) was bewildering.
When Weller didn’t appear for an encore, there was a smattering of boos, but no great heaving groan of discontent – the night’s “sonic kicks” had long since petered out.