Saturday, August 30, 2008

Paul Weller live @ Enmore Theatre, 18 August 2008

[to be published in the Songsmith]


We couldn’t believe it!! Paul Weller was returning to Australia, his second visit since he toured the Style Council here in ‘85. He did 3 shows at the Enmore theatre in Sydney, 19-21 August, touring most other states as well. I never did see the Council concert back in ’85 and was determined not to miss this! And unlike, say, the Council concert where all songs performed were strictly ‘Council’ tunes, this concert opened up Weller’s backlog all the way back to his early days with the Jam. The crowd roared ceaselessly, and it was easily one of the best concerts I’d ever attended. The only catch was, it felt like it had gone on for 5-minutes (he played for at least 2 and a half hours), I really need to be there for at least a good 72 hours to take in the passion, the heavenly performance and songs, all of which are incredibly dear to me.

The lion’s share of the concert was dedicated to performing songs from Weller’s new release 22 Dreams. This may have disappointed some fans I happened to love that, 22 Dreams being in my opinion Weller’s finest release since Wildwood (1993) and the seminal Stanley Road (1995). 22 Dreams – a vinyl double-album (single CD) - is touted as a “concept” album by members of the music press though in Weller’s words he believes it to be more of a journey, a total listening experience, and a pertinent one when juxtaposed to the current day trends & tendencies of quick downloads. To me 22 Dreams harks back to mid-period Beach Boys albums such as Friends & Sunflower where all kinds of different songs and instrumentals were included in the package to make up the “whole”, giving the album a somewhat early 70’s feel. No doubt the songs off 22 Dreams are looser in feel and intent compared to other recent offerings of Weller yet organically they’re stronger, more vibrant. 22 Dreams is one of a string of Weller masterpieces, the first of which being All Mod Cons of 1978, released when Paul Weller was all of 20 years old.

The line-up of Paul’s band differed to what audiences in the UK have been used to over the past 8 or so years. Most noticeably Steve White on drums was absent; this was almost a pity as his musicianship & showmanship is every bit the equal of Paul’s. White has been behind Paul on drums since 1983. Damon the bass-player (originally from Ocean Colour Scene) was absent too though his guitar-playing cohort, Steve Craddock, remained on lead/2nd guitar. Nonetheless, Weller’s new musicians were excellent, providing the perfect backdrop to Weller’s onstage passion.

And so we received from Paul and his band song after excellent fucking song after another… Paul took to the stage, receiving an almighty roar in return, and apologised for taking so long to “come back”! They commenced with ‘Blink and you’ll miss it’, the rip-roaring starter to the As is Now album of 2005, and proceeded to play many songs off the new album plus many past masters. I miss a couple songs I was hoping he’d play but didn’t, ‘Sunflower’ off Wildwood and ‘In the Crowd’ off All Mod Cons. There are so many songs in Weller’s catalogue he couldn’t possibly play nearly a-tenth of them!!

Only Style Council number was featured in the set; ‘Shout to the top’ was performed with gusto and verve, overtly more guitar-orientated from the 1985 original. Songs from the Stanley Road album proved a particular highlight, ‘Broken Stones’ featuring Weller on Wurlitzer organ was truly orgasmic, this being classic toe-tapping soul. ‘Whirpool’s end’ performed near the end rocked out tremendously, ‘Changing man’ was fantastic and the beautiful love ballad, ‘You do something to me’ – featuring Weller on piano - was just breathtaking to be involved with. ‘Invisible’ from 22 Dreams being another piano song that featured flavours of Franco-Canadian balladry ala Kate McGarrigle. These were a magnificent bunch of songs. I was in musical heaven, shaking my head and dancing relentlessly, sometimes waking to the people around me to realise how stiff they were in comparison. It was just great music. I intuited the energy & spirit of the Beatles and Motown that night, of which this boy from Woking, Surrey, who would have been 8 & 9 when Revolver and Sgt Pepper came out, was inspired by so utterly to his innermost core. It was that core inspiration that I heard coming through in song after song, and through the passionately & desperately musical aura the man exuded. Yet the man was relaxed and lively, enjoying himself immensely, offering the odd joke and consistent cigarette toking as happy off-the-cuff offerings to his audience.

While there are too many songs to examine and mention it is worth noting Weller performed three Jam songs that I can recall. During the days of the Style Council, the performance Jam songs was an anathema to Weller and he only returned to the idea & practice after the break-up of the Council and the dawn of his solo career, in the early 1990s. ‘That’s Entertainment’ spurred a dedicated, rousing crowd singalong that continued way after the band put down their instruments. Yet the big surprise, the *gasp* moment, the rabbit out the warren moment, was when toward the end of the concert, the band charged into ‘The Eton Rifles’, a Jam song dating all the way back to 1979. The gasp and roar of the audience was palpable, with the dramatic introduction of the song featuring instantaneous drum rolls, feedback Aminor chord slashes set against the trademark rumbling bass-line motif set around the Am7 chord (AA-CC-GG-EE), resolving into the verses and the classic chant-like chorus. Weller’s lyrics mean everything today as they did back in 1979 with those words from the middle-eight spat back at the audience with scathing incredulity, “…what a catalyst you turned out to be, light the guns and you run off home for your tea, left me standing like a naughty schoolboy…”. These were three of the most magnificent minutes I’ve experience in the world of live concerts.

The last song performed was the Jam’s ‘Town Called Malice’, inarguably one of Weller’s greatest masterpieces. Paul wrote this at Air Studios, London, in October 1981 in preparation for the Jam’s final studio LP, The Gift of 1982. Propelled along by an urgency of tone, magnificently poetic lyrics, and an incredibly catchy Motown-inspired beat and chorus, ‘A Town Called Malice’ was hailed by one contemporary reviewer as “a magnificent howl of outrage at Thatcherite Britain. Yet ‘A Town Called Malice’ has endured the test of time to stand as a song that identifies itself universally with the human condition, that a sense of true freedom and happiness is unattainable within the confines and systems that are covertly cemented in place in our so-called “free” society. The universality of the song was represented by the audience’s utter devotion to its performance, the lyrics were yelled back to Weller in volumes, almost as a protest to unnamed powers-that-be. For three minutes, the Enmore theatre rocked more physically (and energetically) than ever before, the ground was shaking beneath all of us.

Paul Weller – you are a master of song. You have loved your music and learned it the proper way, by absorbing it in front of your record player & transistor radio and performing it live since the age of 14. You are, in colloquial terms, a working-class boy done good. We thank you for your great concert, and your incredible body of work that has delved into so many musical styles, commencing with the In the City album of 1977, recorded when you were merely 18 years of age!!

After the concert I was hoping to hang around the back of the Enmore theatre. Security had blocked the entrance so I abruptly about-healed and just walked up King Street Newtown in a semi-trance, intoxicated by the songs performed, and by the underlying energy of the music representing decades of popular music at its most joyous and inspired.

Here are just a few highlights from Paul Weller’s catalogue, for every song mentioned, I've left out probably 10 other possibilities:

Albums: All Mod Cons (1978) – Snap: Jam compilation (1983) – Our Favourite shop (1985) – Wildwood (1993) – Stanley Road (1995) – 22 Dreams (2008).

Songs: In the city (1977) – In the crowd – Down in the Tube Station at Midnight (1978) – The Eton Rifles (1979) – Going Underground (1980) – Tales from a Riverbank (1981) – A Town called Malice (1982) – Headstart for happiness (1983) – Shout to the Top – Big Boss Groove (1985) – Changing of the guard (1988) – Sunflower – Wildwood (1993) – You do something to me – Broken Stones (1995).

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Al-Anon

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