Monday, 30 March 2015

Paul Weller review – no middle-aged spread from the gladiatorial mod

Most rock stars try to stay in shape as they get older. It’s a commercial imperative. But gigs can also be susceptible to middle-age spread. A rambling anecdote here, a leisurely guitar tune-up there – when you’re cushioned by a decent back catalogue, why not luxuriate like Cleopatra on a gilt chaise longue? Leave urgency to the new breed still scrambling for success. 

Paul Weller is no Cleopatra. At 56, his default performance mode remains more gladiatorial than anecdotal. On the last night of a bespoke tour ahead of his 12th solo album, the closest Weller gets to spinning a yarn is when he mentions the first time he played Edinburgh’s grand old Playhouse: in 1977, the Jam supported the Clash on their White Riot tour. It’s not even a story – all he says is “that gig started seated and ended up with everyone standing”. 

It could be interpreted as a threat if the wiry Weller and a phenomenally well-drilled five-piece band, including his long-time touring guitarist Steve Cradock – from Ocean Colour Scene – didn’t spend the next 100 minutes rattling through a persuasively energised 25-song set with barely a heartbeat between tracks. 

After an opening salvo that leans heavily on Weller’s debut solo album, they hit a fertile groove of maximalist R&B, from the tipsy melody of When Your Garden’s Overgrown to the tooth-rattling rocket of From the Floorboards Up. The closest thing to a lull is caused by a guitar pedal malfunction, but even then Weller doesn’t hang around, pivoting to the piano for two songs from his Britpop-era commercial peak, You Do Something to Me and Broken Stones, an improvised double bill that delights the crowd. 

His forthcoming album has a cosmic title, Saturns Pattern, but judging by the five tracks he plays here, it’s Weller proving he can go as loud and raw as the White Stripes or Royal Blood. The motorik-riffed Long Time throbs like the Stooges, while even the wistful I’m Where I Should Be rattles along to a martial drumbeat. 

After such a rush, Weller’s dual encores feel a little slacker than the main set, but everything snaps back into focus for The Changingman, his signature hit from two decades ago. The majority of the audience are on their feet, the packed balcony creaking and swaying. So when he returns for an unexpected third encore to play A Town Called Malice, the place explodes, presumably just like it did in 1977.

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