tue 23/07/2024

Paul Weller, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Paul Weller, Royal Albert Hall

Paul Weller, Royal Albert Hall

Bursting with energy - and reunited with his old Jam bassist Bruce Foxton

Confident, assertive, vigorous, alive: Paul Weller

When I last saw Paul Weller at the Royal Albert Hall he was becalmed in the doldrums of his career – between the demise of the Style Council and the release of his “wake up and smell the coffee” album, Stanley Road. On stage, Weller was a sheepish figure who only sporadically sparked with enthusiasm for his music; it wasn’t much fun.

What a difference nearly 20 years can make: this time around he was confident, assertive, vigorous, alive – an elder statesman of rock who has reached the point where he can fill up a five-night residency at the Royal Albert Hall (of which this was the second night). He even seemed taller.

Also, these days he seems happy to acknowledge that he used to be in a group called The Jam; not only did he pepper his two-hour set with songs from his old band, but mid-way through the show he invited The Jam’s old bassist Bruce Foxton on stage to play some of them. Euphoria from the crowd, especially when they burst into “The Eton Rifles”. Hello, hooray, indeed. Ditto, “Start!”. There was even an outbreak of light moshing in the crowd. Whatever the long estrangement between the two men was all about (did Foxton spill Weller’s pint, or something?), it seems finally to be over, as Foxton also played bass on a couple of tracks from Weller’s recent Wake Up the Nation album.

On stage here, immaculate in a sharp suit, moving with that familiar angular stealth-prowl and playing nimble bass, Foxton seemed to be having the time of his life. What a surprise this was; Weller’s thing has always been to keep on moving forward, don’t look back, but here he indulged himself, and his vociferous fans, with a trip back into Jamland.

It was, though, only an interlude in a show that majored on material from Weller’s long solo career. He launched the evening with a burstingly energetic "Push it Along" from 2008’s terrific 22 Dreams album and barely relented in his pursuit of maximum power and punch. Dressed in black flares and a simple black T-shirt with top buttons, he sang with conviction and stabbed and slashed at his guitar, while his blokey bandmates created a textured mesh of sound; floating over and under and between their guitars and drums were the weird wooshy noises emanating from the keyboard section which were of a piece with the psychedelic flavour that Weller has added to his music in recent years and which, at times, brought to mind none other than Hawkwind.

There were moments when things flagged a little: some of the new material from Wake Up the Nation was dullish (though "Andromeda" was big and glorious), and the encore section went on for too long (though "The Changingman" was electrifying). And none of it was helped in any way by the hall’s notoriously dismal acoustics – the drums ricocheting wickedly of the back wall, the glamorous, girly string section barely audible, the whole sound mushy and indistinct. Weller himself didn’t say much, and when he did it was hard to make out his exact words: responding to a chorus of “Happy Birthday” from the crowd (it was his 52nd birthday), I think he said something about not being able to enjoy a cigarette.

But these are trifling quibbles. On that night nearly 20 years ago I couldn’t see much of a future for Weller; he seemed to be a man walking his last musical mile. But here he had the aura of a man who has command of his own destiny – as well as being comfortable with his past as a member of an epochal rock trio.


Who took the photograph of PW that accompanies this story? It's beautiful.

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