Monday, November 8, 2010
Paul Weller concert review
Photo by Dean Chalkley, courtesy of Yep Roc Records
Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles
Nov. 3, 2010
Paul Weller is definitely a rare breed among musicians who started their careers in the ’70s. Few of his contemporaries from British punk rock’s first wave (apart from ex-Clash man Mick Jones) still have the restless energy and creative drive necessary to make an adventurous studio album like Wake Up the Nation, which arrived on Yep Roc Records in April.
Alongside electronic DJ Simon Dine (Noonday Underground), Weller’s frequent collaborators sought to create a claustrophobic city-life vibe — sans the acoustic instrumentation prevalent on 2008’s equally ambitious 22 Dreams — and basically succeeded. Some longtime enthusiasts might be initially puzzled by odd noises and instrumentals in a genre-splicing collection that crams 16 tracks into a 40-minute timeframe. Successive listens, however, reveal all its sonic nuances and hidden charms.
Guest musicians include drummer Bev Bevan (once of ELO), guitarist Kevin Shields (prime mover behind My Bloody Valentine) and Weller’s former bandmate in the Jam, bassist Bruce Foxton, marking the pair’s first recording together in more than 25 years. Earlier this year, Nation was nominated for the U.K.’s esteemed Mercury Music Prize, though it lost out to the xx’s self-titled debut. But Weller also snagged an Ivor Novello, England’s top songwriting award, honoring his lifetime achievement.
An invigorating Wiltern Theatre gig Wednesday night, part of a quick mini-tour with just one Los Angeles date and two in New York City, found Weller, 52, still in peak vocal and musical form. The venue was nearly full, a testament to his continued cult following here; back home in the U.K., arenas are the norm.
A few years back, the Modfather (as Weller is affectionately called) jettisoned his longtime touring band, culled from Ocean Colour Scene, but retained masterful lead guitarist Steve Craddock. This group — keyboardist Andy Crofts, bassist Andy Lewis and drummer Steve Pilgrim — were tight throughout the night. Each of them pitched in on background vocals, which made a big difference amid more soulful numbers like “Have You Made Up Your Mind” and a sweeping, Phil Spector-esque “No Tears to Cry.”
The 28-song set came in at just under two hours and covered all facets of Weller’s career, with fine selections from the Jam (the Beatlesque “Start!,” “Pretty Green,” the acoustic guitar-based encore closer “That’s Entertainment”) and the Style Council (a glorious “Shout to the Top”), all getting expected jubilant crowd responses. Sporting a carefully mussed silver mane and clad in a charcoal gray sports coat and trousers, the singer/guitarist still looked the epitome of cool. “Aim High,” the first of nine tracks off Nation, opened the proceedings on a groovy note.
In a nod to childhood influences, old-school R&B touches and classic-rock jams were also part of Wednesday’s performance. A dramatically recast cover of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” was colored by swelling organ, Weller’s soulful singing and his compelling piano work. Frenetic rave-up “Fast Car, Slow Traffic” included a bit of free jazz; the spacey mind-trip “Echoes Round the Sun” (co-written and performed on 22 Dreams by pal Noel Gallagher) contained extended guitar solos.
Brawny rocker “Wake Up the Nation” bore traces of the younger, more opinionated Weller (key lyric: “Get your face out of Facebook and turn off the phone / With the death of the post box / Nowhere feels like home”), as did an off-the-cuff remark about finding his new album in stores. Craddock’s wah-wah solo on a vigorous “From the Floorboards Up” was a wonder to behold; later, he’d engage in Pete Townshend windmill motions.
And on the subject of the Who, “That Dangerous Age,” a brand new song from Weller’s next studio album, recalled the British band’s early mod rock sound. Other highlights here included a sweet, soulfully revamped “Broken Stones,” the trippy “Pieces of a Dream” and “Porcelain Gods” — the latter two dominated by Crofts’ billowy, Ray Manzarek-style sonic beds.
For the encores, the keyboardist moved front and center to play guitar and sing lead on the Jam’s “Art School,” while Weller handled backing vocals and never seemed to tire. The energy level was still so high, he probably could have easily gone another half-hour.
Main set: Aim High / Up the Dosage / Pretty Green / From the Floorboards Up / 22 Dreams / All I Wanna Do (Is Be with You) / That Dangerous Age / Into Tomorrow / Have You Made Up Your Mind / Shout to the Top / No Tears to Cry / Broken Stones / Trees / How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) / You Do Something to Me / Pieces of a Dream / Start! / Fast Car, Slow Traffic / Echoes Round the Sun / Wild Wood
First encore: Wake Up the Nation / Andromeda / Art School / Come On, Let’s Go
Second encore: The Changingman / Porcelain Gods / Moonshine / That’s Entertainment