Despite receiving middling reviews for most of his albums since ‘Stanley Road’, Paul Weller is one of those artists who are almost entirely above critical opinion. They’re safe from attack and have pretty much carved out their own corner of cool, in which they will reside forever. Having witnessed him in action last night at Derby’s Assembly Rooms, I’m reasonably certain I get it.
Firstly, and this was the first time I’d seen him, he is a quite wonderful musician, whose boundless enthusiasm radiates from him for the duration of the gig. You can tell he really fucking loves the songs he’s playing, and it’s a sense of abandon you don’t see at many live shows.
Secondly, he’s just about got the art of building a set sorted. Admittedly, after the years he’s had to perfect this he should really have it perfected, but the material he played ensured that a state of rapture was duly bestowed upon all present by the point it was time to head homewards. Sadly, ‘The Eton Rifles’ got the biggest cheer of the night. While I understand this from the nostalgia angle, I’m a firm believer that much of what Weller has done solo is worthy of attention. Ok, so ‘Illumination’ is hardly an album that’ll appear in Mojo‘s ‘Buried Treasure’ feature in twenty years’ time, but can you honestly deny the quality of ‘Stanley Road’ and ‘As Is Now’? A friend I was with suggested that the audience looked like they were here just for ‘You Do Something To Me‘. I’d argue that that was far too modern for many of this audience. Not to say it wasn’t a great audience, mind. Weller seemed genuinely chuffed with the response he got – presumably this was at least in part down to the plethora of new tunes being debuted – and as a result we received a bonus encore of ‘All You Need Is Love’, which was thoroughly charming and almost as good an end to a gig as walking out of Richard Hawley‘s Buxton date to the strains of Louis Armstrong‘s ‘What A Wonderful World’.
Thirdly, the new album is likely to be shit-hot, based on the material offered up. Only the odd song ended up chugging as he was prone to do around the turn of the new millennium, and the upbeat stuff sounded urgent and, most importantly, fantastically soulful. I’ve long been of the opinion that he could release a truly beautiful soul record, in the mould of the live version of ‘Broken Stones‘ which builds on the already brilliant foundations of one of my favourite Weller tunes and takes it off into orbit. It was last night’s joint highlight along with ‘Wild Blue Yonder’, the recent one-off single that was supposed to launch a whole run of stand-alone singles. Ah well, he’ll do whatever the fuck he likes, one supposes.
Fourthly, and this is the weird bit, I don’t think I’ll ever feel the need to see him live again. Taking nothing away from what was, in the main, an excellent performance, there’s slightly too much of the self-indulgent guitar wankery that is so acceptable to fans in possession of rose-tinted ocular matter and the overwhelming sense of ‘hope he plays a few from his days in The Jam‘ that hung over the crowd a little to visibly is a little hard to ignore. I’m glad I saw him, and he kept me entertained. But with ticket prices at £30 and upwards, I’m not sure that’s the most likely route for my disposable income in the future. I can’t be the only one who feels like this after certain gigs, can I? Great, but once is enough.
I’ve pre-ordered the new album, ’22 Dreams’, mind. Here’s the new single.