‘Colossal’ Effort From Weller as New Songs Stand Out at Colosseum.
“I told you we’d be back,” rasped Paul Weller to the 2,000 fans in Watford’s sold out Colosseum, “so here we are”. Returning to the venue for his second visit after his 2015 date on a similar tour of smaller arenas, Weller once again gave his South-East based fans a preview of some of the songs on his upcoming album.
The opening act was kept quiet until shortly before the show, with this tour having previously seen White Room and Mollie Marriott supporting. The third and final support act for this tour were revealed to be Liverpool three-piece Stealing Sheep. Emerging bang on time in matching yellow one-piece suits with black polka dots, bassist Emily Lansley, percussionist Lucy Mercer and keys and synth player Rebecca Hawley shared the singing out equally as they delivered a throbbing, buzzing entrée of industrial techno with thumping bass, swooshing synths and expressive percussion. A version of Kraftwerk and Neu! For the 21st Century, as one enthralled individual near me noted. Although all three took lead vocals at different points, we’ve finally found a group who keeps their between-song chat at a more sparse level than Weller himself (that is, barely any at all).
The crowd seemed to be generally very impressed. Stealing Sheep’s performance encompassed tracks from their two full studio albums to date, Into the Diamond Sun and most recent effort Not Real, which gave us the most memorable tune Deadlock. The ethereal feel of the music and jumpsuits was complimented by synchronised removal and replacement of sunglasses, a synthesised voice announcing the end of their performance, and their slot finishing in a novel manner by a polaroid picture being taken of the audience by the band. Traditional fayre for a Weller fan? No. Should you check them? Absolutely.
Then it was Weller’s turn to grace the stage, with a slightly altered band seeing Andy Crofts replace Andy Lewis on bass and former Moon and current Monroze man Tom Van Heel coming in to fill Crofts’ space behind the keys. After a relatively quiet 2016 touring-wise seeing only a handful of guest appearances as Weller worked on his two albums released this year, this tour has seen him span England, including a huge visit to the Royal Albert Hall for the Teenage Cancer Trust gig where he welcomed Kelly Jones and Ronnie Wood on stage. This followed his support slot for Richard Hawley at the Union Chapel in February- a gig which by the looks of the setlist, any self-respecting Weller fan probably wishes they had attended (Dusk ‘Til Dawn!!!)
Wearing a stylish dark blue jacket which he soon shed to reveal an olive long-sleeved shirt, Weller kicked off with a trio of songs from his most recent full LP Saturns Pattern (White Sky, Long Time and I’m Where I Should Be). He was in fine form, spitting the lyrics and strutting around the stage.
Turning the pace down a notch with slow handclaps, The Jam’s Ghosts with a sublime vocal led on to another older song, My Ever Changing Moods, introduced by Steve Cradock, which got the fans moving and a party atmosphere started.
Weller wandered over to the mini-piano by the side of the stage for the title track from Saturns Pattern, revealing his happy familial life thankfully without getting anywhere near Robbie Williams level smugness. Bathed in blue and red floodlights to match the album’s cover design (although nowhere near as imposing as the big-screen backdrop for the late 2015 tour), this mood was enhanced by the recent news that Paul and wife Hannah are expecting Weller’s eighth child, and their third together.
Going My Way came next, and once again the standout song on Saturns Pattern was improved live.
During one of the rare moments I wasn’t transfixed by Stealing Sheep, I was amazed to see Roger Nowell tuning up Weller’s sky blue Telecaster, only seen on stage recently to play Sea Spray and not at all since 2014 before this tour. The only time it was actually used was during the rocking new number Woo See Mama, where Weller remained at his keys and played guitar for a while before discarding it and contributing a piano layer, like Dragonfly in reverse if you will.
With this tour having already cemented its place as a fans’ favourite despite not yet seeing release, Woo See Mama garnered perhaps the warmest crowd reception of any of Weller’s post-millennium songs on show tonight. I would place it as a more soulful and nuanced, less basic version of Long Time. Anyhow, it is far more upbeat than Weller’s recent appearances with Stone Foundation.
A relaxed You Do Something to Me, always a recognisable favourite among Weller’s audience, provided a total contrast to the new song’s get-up-and-go next. As always, Cradock was sublime on lead guitar in yet another consummate performance.
The crowd was really sparked into life by Man In The Cornershop, with Weller and Cradock sharing vocal duties as usual. This is probably the point to introduce a reference to Cradock’s teenage Jam obsession, but that is hardly necessary since over the last couple of years Weller and Cradock have really made this their own.
Around this point, I started to think back to all the setlists I had seen from this tour and remembered the absence of a certain song which has recently been a mainstay of Weller’s live repertoire. However, the Modfather duly played From the Floorboards Up next, after announcing the fact that he hadn’t for a while. Bonus!
The Style Council’s Have You Ever Had It Blue was prefaced by a reference by Weller to his love of the book (and disgust with the film!) which raised a laugh. Percussionist Ben Gordelier was miced up superbly to add maracas and other assorted percussion and contribute to the tropical feel. Before first hearing this live in 2015, I must admit I was deeply sceptical about my least favourite Style Council song’s translation to the stage, but once again Weller won me over with an excellent vocal performance. The old songs he does play are without exception improved versions.
Heavy Soul track Up In Suze’s Room came next, in what is fast becoming a staple of Weller’s gigs.
New song She Moves With the Fayre, in the studio due to feature Robert Wyatt, was next on the list of Weller’s recent tracks. Without a plectrum, Weller scraped at his guitar on this groovy number and afterwards, he tellingly gave a shoutout to “James Brown and Fairport Convention”.
Friday Street and Above The Clouds have been mainstays of Weller’s live sets over recent years, so the multi-layered former and singalong latter appealed to the fans. The Movement’s fan-favourite Into Tomorrow was performed with the same gusto, brought to a close by some impressive solos, most notably from drummer Steve Pilgrim.
Crofts, wearing his signature peaked hat, was given the opportunity to introduce Long Long Road, the most recently teased new song of two so far from A Kind Revolution, as Weller returned to the keys. The song, with backing vocals from Weller’s bassist and almost gospel-like harmonies from the band, to me clearly showed echoes of Hey Jude.
Long Long Road was followed by another new album track in the form of The Cranes Are Back, as usual dedicated by Weller, still sitting, to the people of Syria. In most situations such a message would have come across as twee, however the sheer power of the song that followed matched up to the dedication by the long-time supporter of the War Child charity and drummer Steve Pilgrim’s Be One Percent.
A piano driven ballad with a soulful lead vocal and harmonious band-backing, The Cranes Are Back dips and soars. You could almost imagine it being the lead single Heliocentric cried out for. This sparse yet funky, bass-led song could musically almost be a slowed down and more sultry take on Saturns Pattern’s title track.
Peacock Suit was excellent as ever. Nothing really to report here as one of Weller’s best known songs was delivered on point as usual.
As if to further evidence the Modfather’s willingness to delve into different nooks of his back catalogue on the back of Have You Ever Had It Blue, we were then treated to a cover of Dr John’s I Walk On Gilded Splinters, known for adding a bit of fun to Stanley Road. And 22 years on the song did not disappoint.
Come On/Let’s Go, consistently one of Weller’s best live and a song which is now unbelievably twelve years old (I know!) brought the set to a logical conclusion.
The acoustic ‘encore’ section has been a source of differing opinions among Weller fans. Some absolutely loved it, while it has faced criticism from others for breaking up the set. On tonight’s evidence, it worked well, with Weller, Pilgrim and Cradock sitting on stools, mostly with acoustic guitars (Cradock changing occasionally), a little way away from Crofts on his conventional bass, with Gordelier and van Heel sticking to their usual stations.
But sadly, not standing right at the front, I experienced first hand the frustrations of some, namely that many in attendance talked through the section, and did not appreciate the newer songs. A Kind Revolution, you could say, was met with an unkind reception.
The band kicked off with Wild Wood, perhaps not as groundbreaking as the 2010 Royal Albert Hall live version, but nonetheless it was nice to hear the song as intended, with Crofts’ bass and Cradock’s understated licks of electric guitar complimenting Weller and Steve Pilgrim’s acoustics.
Next came Monday, an intricate, slowed down version of the Jam classic.
We were then given a real treat, as Weller unveiled another new song, Hopper, which was being played live for the very first time. With piped brass accompaniment and even a chanted ending, the three-acoustics setup did this song real justice, especially considering Weller’s strong vocal performance, at times almost talking.
Steve Cradock got out a mandolin (Captain Cradock’s Mandolin? No?) to decorate The Ballad of Jimmy McCabe, the lead song from Weller’s recently released soundtrack for the boxing film Jawbone, in cinemas on the 12th May (the same day as A Kind Revolution hits the nation’s shelves and doormats). It was delivered beautifully by Weller, as on record.
A beautiful, very Days of Speed-esque Out of the Sinking brought the acoustic section to a close.
Hopefully, this served as a good demonstration of Steve Pilgrim’s prowess as a singer and guitarist to the uninitiated, with his recently released fourth solo LP Morning Skies on sale afterwards.
After a short break, the stools were removed and the band returned to their customary positions for an electric encore. There was more than the odd dewy eye in the auditorium as Weller took up his acoustic guitar to play Hung Up, a song not heard live for some years, with Cradock’s superlative electric guitar parts really coming to the fore and making this song.
The Impossible Idea, A Kind Revolution’s closing track, was the sixth and final unreleased number given an outing. Vocally, it was arguably the highlight, acoustically backed by Weller, allowing him to exhibit his excellent vocal range while once again playing choirmaster to his band.
I don’t want to alarm anyone, but The Impossible Idea could be Paul Weller’s best song ever. Better than Going My Way. Better than Wild Wood. Better than You’re The Best Thing. Better than Town Called Malice! But hey, let’s wait until the record comes out just to be on the safe side, eh?
These City Streets really mellowed the mood. With a relaxed ending prompting an early round of applause, this is becoming a modern day Foot of the Mountain in Weller’s set. A snarling Start! closed off this section.
Re-emerging for a third encore to bring the total playing time to over two hours and ten minutes over thirty-two songs, Weller introduced his band before delivering a perfect rendition of The Changingman, to send everyone home happy, even those who have not bought a Weller record this side of the year 2000.
The future’s looking bright for Paul Weller with his upcoming album release next month and a string of arena dates recently announced for February and March 2018. By the sounds of the new songs, we’ve got a potential classic on our hands. This could be as good as 22 Dreams. I only hope that the rest of Weller’s fanbase embraces A Kind Revolution so they can appreciate the new songs when they are played live, instead of just giving Stanley Road yet another spin.
By: Tony Allen (@TSC_Fanclub)