Paul Weller played three shows in New York City and made a trip up to Boston for a gig this past weekend. As always, it’s a real treat for Paul’s die hard fans in the USA. They often travel hundreds of miles to see him, and even though he generally only plays the coasts, Weller playing the States is infinitely better than some of the pockets of the world where other “Internationalists” have never had the chance to see him perform. Check out all the great reviews, vids, pics, and set lists from our generous contributors. Cheers!
The stakes went up as soon as the lights went down. “What an introduction,” Paul Weller said with a hint of worry after Billy Mitchell – a fixture at New York’s Apollo Theater since 1965, as an assistant to the stars, talent booker and all-around host – enthusiastically welcomed the English singer to that hallowed stage on July 25th. “We’d better be good after that.”
Weller, opening a typically brief U.S. tour (it ends July 31st in Philadelphia), was definitely quick about his business, performing 20 songs in 75 minutes with a five-piece band and a Seventies-British-blues crunch coating the vintage-R&B reverberations that still distinguish Weller’s songwriting. The title track from Weller’s 2010 album, Wake Up the Nation (Yep Roc), sounded like high-speed Free with a Motown dance beat. So did the final encore, “Town Called Malice,” one of a welcome handful of songs Weller pulled from his life in the Jam and, with its bass line clearly descended from the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love,” a special, appropriate pleasure in this room.
Weller – a remarkable-looking 55, with silver-mod hair –packed the set list with an emphasis on his strong recent work, including last year’s Sonik Kicks and 2002’s Illumination (both Yep Roc). He couldn’t help noting his eternal cult status on this side of the Atlantic. “This is from an album that came out last year, that probably few of you heard,” Weller said, with a small chip from his shoulder rattling in his voice, before playing the brisk and brash “Kling I Klang” from Sonik Kicks. “That Dangerous Age,” also from the record, suggested the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” as rearranged by the Seventies Rolling Stones: good evidence of how Weller keeps finding new ways to press his deep-seated inspirations forward.
One album he returned to with unexpected frequency was 1997’s Heavy Soul, an album that did, unfairly, disappear on arrival here. It is an important if low-key pivot in Weller’s solo catalog, binding his gifts and history with the R&B ideals and progressive ambitions of Seventies British bands such as Traffic and Free. At the Apollo, Weller played “Peacock Suit,” “Up in Suze’s Room” and “Friday Street” from that record – a nice bounty that fit and, with hindsight, predicted his fine, current run of dynamic introspection.
There were gifts to the faithful too: Weller’s 1984 Style Council hit “My Ever Changing Moods,” rendered with a rapid fury that had more octane than cappuccino, and some back-to-back Jam. “That’s Entertainment” was done as a folk-rock march with Weller robustly strumming an acoustic guitar; there was no reason to change a thread on the Beatles-“Taxman” pastiche “Start!” And in a nod to his surroundings, Weller opened his encore with a rough, reverent cover of “Wishing on a Star,” a bittersweet 1978 groove by the R&B group Rose Royce. By then, Weller had earned that welcome from Billy Mitchell. This was pure admiration and gratitude.
At age 55, Paul Weller remains one of the most riveting performers in rock music. While his music is sometimes derided as “Dad Rock” by a few snide British music journalists, Weller has consistently put out quality music for over three decades and has reinvented himself many times since he first emerged as the main songwriter with The Jam in 1977. He still performs with the blazing intensity that many of his contemporaries of the British punk/New Wave invasion of the late 1970s left behind years ago. And that ferocity was evident at Weller’s terrific show at New York City’s Webster Hall on Friday, July 26th.
Weller is not touring behind a new album on this current trek (his last new release was 2012’s Sonik Kicks), so that freed him up to cast his current show as a look through his extensive catalog as solo artist as well as songs from his time as a member of The Jam and The Style Council. And given the reactions from the raucous crowd throughout the show, that seemed to be a good decision on Weller’s part.
Opening the show with the powerful triple threat of “Sunflower,” “Wake Up The Nation,” and “From The Floorboards Up,” Weller had the crowd roaring from the start. He did a fantastic version of The Style Council’s “My Ever Changing Moods,” which he had not performed on recent stops in New York City. And Weller’s ability to shift from a relaxed song such as “Above The Clouds” to the incendiary “Peacock Suit” just a few selections later in the set is quite impressive.
Near the end of the main set, Weller performed The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment” and “Start!” back to back, a choice which was met by the crowd with a full-throated roar of approval. The performance of “That’s Entertainment” was particularly impressive. One of the most popular songs in The Jam’s catalog, “That’s Entertainment” has been performed numerous times in Weller’s solo shows throughout the years, yet Weller and his very talented band made it sound fresh and new. But the highlight of the show was still to come.
The blistering performance of “Whirlpool’s End” was jaw dropping. Despite Weller now being in his mid 50s, he still seemed very much the angry young man when he played “Whirlpool’s End.” Any doubt that Weller is still one of the most vital performers around could be put to rest with the performance of that song on Friday night. After that, the song that closed the main set, an excellent version of “The Changingman,” seemed almost to be an afterthought.
After a brief break, Weller and company returned to the stage for the encore. Introducing the encore’s first tune as “an old English folk song,” Weller and crew performed a terrific “Wild Wood,” which is one of his most popular songs as a solo artist. And a bouncy version of one of The Jam’s biggest hits, “Town Called Malice,” closed the show and sent the crowd home happy.
Weller and his band were on stage for 95 minutes. The main set contained 20 songs and was followed by a three-song encore. In addition to playing electric and acoustic guitar, Weller played keyboards for the performances of “Dragonfly” and “Be Happy Children.” Weller’s current touring band features longtime sideman Steve Cradock (who is also a member of the UK band Ocean Colour Scene) on electric and acoustic guitar, Andy Lewis on bass, Steve Pilgrim on drums, Andy Crofts on keyboards, and Ben Gordelier on percussion.
The evening kicked off with an excellent solo acoustic performance by the singer-songwriter Matthew Ryan. Midway through Ryan’s set, he noticed that an audience member who was standing by the barrier in front of the stage was looking quite unwell. Ryan stopped his performance (in the middle of a song) to request help for the guy from the Webster Hall staff. After a brief delay, a few members of the Webster Hall crew arrived near the stage to help the guy and move him away from the crowded area in front of center stage. Such an incident might have thrown a lesser performer, but Ryan just shrugged and picked up the song where he had left off. It was pretty impressive and drew a nice round of applause from the crowd.
When Paul Weller rolls into town, I take notice. He’s probably the person I’ve seen perform live more than any other artist – I can honestly say that I’ve lost count. So, while I never had the pleasure of seeing either The Jam (in fairness, I was seven years-old when they split – so I hope you’ll let me off) or The Style Council, I have seen Weller through many incarnations of his solo years. From The Brixton Academy, to Trentham Gardens in Stoke, to the Town Hall in New York City, to Finsbury Park and the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem – I’ve seen acoustic shows, record-store appearances and festival gigs. But, I can say with absolute honesty that I have never been so excited to attend a Weller gig as I was last night. Two reasons…
First up, I give you this: Weller is on fire. Last summer I saw two shows, one in New York, and one as the headliner for the final night of Latitude in the UK. Both were truly stunning. Weller on top of his game is something to drink up – you’re witnessing something special. Last year, he tore through career-spanning sets (though, The Style Council years were notably absent), and absolutely nailed the reason for his ongoing relevance. Knowing that he was returning with the same band, there was no way that I’d be electing to miss Weller coming to my town.
And, secondly – truly underpinning my excitement: Weller was due to play at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Now, this may not mean much to readers who don’t live in New York – but this venue is special. Tiny to the point that ‘intimate’ would become ‘embarrassing’ if the show wasn’t top class, and with a layout that makes it almost impossible to have anything but an amazing view – it’s a luxury to be able to see an artist of Weller’s stature in such surroundings.
And, by Christ, he didn’t disappoint.
Effortlessly cool, with a 35-year catalogue of A-list material, surrounded by musicians at the absolute peak of their trade (has anyone lasted by Weller’s side longer than guitar wizard Steve Craddock?), and with a swagger that shows that he still means it – last night, Weller brought something truly special to a corner of Brooklyn. The set took in early solo material (‘Sunflower’ and a mesmerizing take on ‘Above The Clouds’), more recent output (‘Wake Up The Nation’ and ‘Be Happy Children’ both sounding special) and The Jam classics (if Weller got up on stage and just played ‘That’s Entertainment’ 20 times, the crowd would have left happy). But, for me, the standout track of the night came from The Style Council catalogue: ‘My Ever Changing Moods’ was a thing to behold. There was an air of astonishment, and unbridled joy from the audience at hearing a slice of classic pop given a jolt. It was like 80s pop on guitar-fuelled steroids. Lovely.
I’ve said before that Weller takes some beating when he’s on form. Last night, a 55-year old bloke from Woking owned Brooklyn.