At the top of the show, Paul Weller promises those in the First Direct Arena a mixed bag of an evening – old songs, new songs, something from every corner of the four decades of his career. Obviously, as this is the tour promoting the current album ‘A Kind Revolution’, we are given some live airings of very new tracks – the stand-outs being the reflective ‘Long Long Road’ and the infectiously hand-clappy “Woo Se Mama” – but they slot in comfortably and don’t cause so much as a stutter in the set.
‘White Sky’ is the second song in the set but it marks the point at which things start. The grimy, addictive blues riff wakes the entire arena up and a man two seats across from me immediately leaps to his feet to pound a barrier with his fist for the entirety of the song. It is tracks like this (and later the old classics) that really highlight just how good the whole band are – you couldn’t fit a fag paper between them, they’re that tight. To a man, they seem to love everything about the songs and more importantly be hungry. This is the thing that strikes you most; there’s an energy about the performance that would suggest that there is still, after all this time, a hunger to create and perform and create again. There’s not the slightest whiff of the gravy train about this show.
The title track of 2015’s release ‘Saturn’s Pattern’ and The Style Council’s ‘Have You Ever Had It Blue’ bounce along and draw out some gleeful bobbing about in an audience that has arrived at this show full of the Friday night spirit and ready to put it to good use. As if to prevent them peaking too soon and save some of that spirit for later in the set, a beautifully delivered ‘You Do Something To Me’ allows everyone to simmer down and listen before erupting into the first really hefty cheer of the evening as the final notes drift from the piano. At this point, the rumble of the old favourites can already be heard in the distance.
The musical mastery on display here tonight is unmistakable but not showy. This isn’t a performance from somebody who is into being a legend for people to worship or milking his legendary status for all it’s worth to guarantee he doesn’t have to give up any of his houses. It is the performance of somebody who, even after forty years, is still vital and still relevant. The musicianship alone is worthy of another decade of guaranteed sell out dates. This is the first show in years I’ve seen where the individual solos given to each player half way through the set aren’t just there to toss off some egos, the cumulative effect being a spirited jam that is denied the chance to outstay its welcome by a gunshot-beat finish at just the right moment.
The final third of the set brings a higher concentration of rock solid classics. ‘Eaton Rifles’ is punchier and more gritty that the album track and it works the fans up into a home straight lather – there are jeers and cackles when Weller dedicates it to Jacob Rees-Mogg; “what a fucking drip, the future of the conservative party”. It may be a flippant quip but it underlines the not-quite-dormant rebellious side of the man. Unlike other acts of a similar generation who maybe once waved the flag and flicked the V’s at the establishment, none of the corners have been rounded off of Weller’s performance. It’s enjoyably spikey still.
An acoustic encore doesn’t do much to reduce the energy in the room. An engrossing version of ‘English Rose’ is followed by ‘That’s Entertainment’ – the absence of electric instruments and drums doing nothing to dampen its urgency. There is, at last, a shift down the gears as we are treated to an epic reformulation of ‘Wild Wood’ that is a genuine highlight of the set. The second encore sees things get plugged in again and the inevitable big finish on a classic from The Jam, ‘A Town Called Malice’. The band gallop their way through it like it was written yesterday, without labouring over it or trying to change it into anything too over the top. It’s a banger and that is all that is needed to close a show that has been all about the direct delivery of great songs as they were always intended to be heard.
Yes, Paul Weller is knocking on a bit now – he’s been around forever, an entire generation has never known existence without him being on Jools Holland at least once a year, but the world would be worse off without the music he is still producing and without shows like these. All hail the Modfather.