For the past few years here at PWNews, we’ve kept a tradition going of getting a fine live review from one of our good friends, Tony Allen. Here’s his review of Paul’s final gig of 2015! Cheers Tony!
‘SATURNS PATTERN’ SEES WELLER IN STELLAR FORM AT APOLLO’
Saturday 5th December 2015 marked one of the lesser-celebrated anniversaries in Paul Weller’s illustrious career. Ten years on from the day that one of his definitive live albums ‘Catch-Flame’ was recorded at the Alexandra Palace, he once again took to the stage at a packed London venue to finish what has been a largely successful tour. Tonight’s venue was the Weller band’s second consecutive night at the Hammersmith Apollo, two years since their last appearance at the Grade II* listed theatre.
And tonight’s set list saw several returns to the ‘Catch-Flame’ offering, featuring a number of songs not often given an airing in recent years. ‘Up In Suze’s Room’ and ‘Long Hot Summer’ alongside Jam favourites ‘In the Crowd’ and the only real surprise of the night ‘That’s Entertainment’ ensured there was something for everyone in the 5,000 strong capacity crowd.
Support was provided by Scottish rap trio Young Fathers, who have polarised opinion among Weller fans on this tour. They started bang on time with a confident, swaggering set comprising tracks from their Mercury Prize winning album ‘Dead’ and this year’s ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’, an album which has performed well in the recent ‘Best of 2015’ lists. Holding themselves confidently on stage in the face of a glaring strobe lighting show, highlights of their set included ‘Old Rock ‘N’ Roll’, whose refrain gave its name to their most recent album, and ‘Get Up’, the title track of an EP described by Paul’s wife Hannah Weller as “my personal favourite” from the band.
The main show was preceded by a memorable appearance from Nicky Weller, who updated the crowd about her fundraising efforts for cancer detection which had earlier seen the famous ‘Jam wall’ from this summer’s exhibition at Somerset House being auctioned. She also unveiled the next item to be put on eBay, a pink jacket signed by Weller’s band, asking fans to keep an eye out.
Young Fathers got their name as all three members, like Paul Weller, were called after their dads. Nicky then provided one of those I-was-there moments in tribute to John Weller Snr: “let’s introduce the best band in the f**king world!”
Without further ado, the band entered stage right, and two songs from ‘Saturns Pattern’ kicked off Weller’s set, with the laid back ‘I’m Where I Should Be’ followed without pause for breath by the urgency of ‘Long Time’, providing a taste of the eclectic offering which was to follow.
Weller was then handed his faithful old Epiphone Casino to perform two Jam classics. In the first deviation from the previous night’s set list, ‘Man in the Corner Shop’ was preferred to ‘Boy About Town’, the two songs acting interchangeably throughout the tour. Steve Cradock shared vocal duties with Weller before the former Jam frontman started the quieter, contemplative ‘Ghosts’ on his own. This has lost none of its effect after 30 years and if anything benefitted from Weller’s matured vocals. It was not long until Weller had shed his jacket to reveal a smart, fitted long-sleeved purple top.
‘White Sky’ once again turned the mood on its head before ‘Come On/Let’s Go’, which was as ever accompanied by superb flashing lights matching the raw aggression of the song. Regular keyboard player Andy Crofts joined in on guitar to add weight here. A faithful rendition of ‘Heavy Soul’ classic ‘Up In Suze’s Room’ followed with Weller on acoustic guitar, in keeping with the raw moodiness of the ballad.
Cradock introduced ‘My Ever Changing Moods’, the first of a brace of Style Council numbers which also included ‘Have You Ever Had It Blue’, its authenticity retained thanks to Ben Gordelier’s percussive intro.
Live staple ‘From the Floorboards Up’ got the standing area rocking before Weller took up his acoustic guitar and announced ‘Sonik Kicks’ track ‘The Attic’, a song popular recently but one which has slipped off the set lists for this tour. After a short pause to allow Weller to move to his keyboard, bassist Andy Lewis introduced the title track from latest album ‘Saturns Pattern’. Weller remained seated for the standout song from this year’s album.
The day after download-only remixes EP ‘Saturns Peaks’ was released (including Young Fathers’ take on ‘Saturns Pattern’), one of the reworked songs ‘Going My Way’ was performed closer to its original form. And it proved one of the highlights of the set, taking on a new life with a soulful final verse from Weller, accompanied as ever by his band on backing vocals. One fan near me remarked on its clear Beach Boys influences, Weller looking both forwards and backwards simultaneously.
While ‘Saturns Pattern’ was naturally the best represented album with seven songs, a retrospective angle was now applied. Six of the next seven came from Weller’s early solo years. For this last planned concert of the year, Weller brought back some old live favourites previously dropped from his sets on this tour. Popular ‘Stanley Road’ single ‘You Do Something to Me’ (showcasing Cradock’s talents once again with Weller behind his keyboard) began this streak, providing the usual opportunity for the audience to cosy up to their other halves.
‘Above the Clouds’, “an even older song, going back to… the last century really” remains easily one of Weller’s most popular live songs among his audience, and this was followed by another offering from his solo debut album in the form of ‘Into Tomorrow’. This included the best individual examples of his band’s fine musicianship. First came a sublime guitar solo from Cradock, during which Weller nodded his approval, before being counted back in by his younger colleague for the next verse.
Cradock’s brilliance was followed by a superb display from, in his own words afterwards, Weller’s “wonderful drummers” Steve Pilgrim and Gordelier. During this, bassist Lewis faced his bandmates either side of him seemingly transfixed, proving that his claim in the first Weller tour programme in years that “Stood between the two of them as they battle it out, I’m in the best place in the house” for his favourite live song was not mere hyperbole.
Weller joked before a solid ‘Paperchase’ that the lukewarm response its announcement received meant that “maybe ten” of the audience knew of the album, a slight jibe, perhaps, towards the vocal minority who still call for Weller to play more Jam songs at his solo shows. His supple vocal chords delivered this excellently, backed by Andy Lewis’ booming bass line. The Acid Jazz artist has been on fine form this year, contributing to several brilliant under-the-radar LPs, chiefly John Howard and the Night Mail’s eponymous debut and Thee Concerned Citizens’ political ‘Solution Songs’.
Crofts, unusually, was allowed to join Lewis and Cradock as Weller invited him to introduce the next number ‘Friday Street’. Sure as night follows day, ‘Porcelain Gods’ came after, a sure fire bet to be in the set. Its album mate, ‘Broken Stones’, made a welcome return tonight, to close this distinct section of the performance, during which the audience acted as a third percussionist by clapping in time during the quieter moments.
Next came another peak of the set, the final Style Council number, ‘Long Hot Summer’. It was vocally superb by Weller, playing keys to once again allow Cradock to take centre stage as his guitar part finished the song. ‘Starlite’, signalled another change up of intensity with superb sound effects from Gordelier decorating the funky dance single released in 2011.
‘Peacock Suit’ and ‘Start!’ closed proceedings temporarily, naturally raising the roof in the process.
Returning after a short break, the band launched into their first encore, beginning with two of the longer ‘Saturns Pattern’ songs, the critically acclaimed ‘These City Streets’ and newest single ‘Pick It Up’, due out on the 18th December and intricately started by Cradock. Both of these have recently seen music videos released, and ‘These City Streets’ was accompanied in the background by Crofts’ effort starring his girlfriend, model Tara Griffin, filmed in Paris- particularly poignant in light of recent events in the French capital.
The opening bars of ‘In the Crowd’ sent many a shiver down the spine of the assembled masses before this portion was closed by the always rousing ‘The Changingman’.
After another small intermission, Weller headed straight for the keyboard to perform, after fulsome thanks to his fans, what is perhaps his most heartfelt and touching piece of solo songwriting, the mesmerising ‘Be Happy Children’. Only a raging cynic would have the temerity to suggest this could be a gloat aimed at Associated Newspapers following their recent failed appeal against a fine for publishing unpixellated photographs of Weller’s children.
Tonight, after its absence from the March tour of smaller venues, the song dedicated “for our fallen comrades” returned refreshed. Backing vocals were provided by Pilgrim alongside his simple percussive accompaniment. Gordelier, too, came into his own here providing other rhythm. Although not every fan’s cup of tea, this is, for me, the epitome of modern day Paul Weller, no surprise then that it was included tonight.
After the swooping synth backing faded away, Weller bolted back to his microphone, barely stopping to pick up his Telecaster, growling “we’ve got time for a couple more songs, haven’t we?” There is only one answer to that question when said songs are two of The Jam’s best loved- an unexpected, fully electric version of ‘That’s Entertainment’ and ‘A Town Called Malice’, featuring Weller’s familiar tambourine part. Despite appearing to break a string on his Gibson ES-335, Cradock carried on with aplomb until the last when the band took an extra moment to relish the applause before bowing and exiting. And that, as they say, was the end of that.
With such a vast back catalogue, it is of course impossible to provide a set to entirely please all in attendance. However, Weller managed pretty well, in a 31-song set lasting well over 120 minutes, to play the recent songs he is currently the most passionate about while, as he jested prior to ‘Above the Clouds’, being able to “claw all the way back up the slippery ladder of success!”
A word is also deserved for the excellent visuals throughout the evening. During the ‘Saturns Pattern’ songs, animated graphics matching the album and single artwork appeared on a big screen behind the band. For other songs we saw live footage of the band, a close-up of Weller’s fingers when at the keyboard, his name, and, for two of the Style Council songs, colour-coded backings (unsurprisingly, Blue for the ‘Absolute Beginners’ soundtrack and a warm orange for ‘Long Hot Summer’). Arguably the most impressive, however, was the beautiful orange marbled background to ‘Paperchase’.
As ever with Weller, there’s always something new around the corner. It’s not clear the extent to which he plans to play live next year, with festivals mooted, but this month’s excellent Uncut magazine revealed a host of projects planned to keep Weller busy in 2016. As Weller himself said on stage: “we’ve still got a long way to go… it’s been a fantastic year, and you’ve all been wonderful and I thank everyone for coming tonight and for listening.” Couldn’t put it better myself.