Sobriety rarely agrees so visibly with a rock musician. Paul Weller’s 2010 decision to give up alcohol, recognising that his drinking was killing him, will have been a relief to Noel Gallagher, who once had to kick his appallingly inebriated hero out of his house. Alongside the more serious matter of Weller’s long-term health, it’s also been welcome news to those of us who suffered through the aimless guitar jams he could descend into live when in his cups. Weller’s renewed sharpness of mind now lets him lead his excellent band with crisp purpose befitting a life-long Mod.
This final gig of a short UK tour to support last year’s Sonik Kicks album is also a statement of intent. A marathon 26-song set includes at least one song from each of the 55-year-old’s 11 solo albums, and rarely the ones you’d expect - or, quite often, hope for. His career’s deeper, firmer foundations are acknowledged with one Style Council song, and two from The Jam. But this is a gig showing Weller’s pride in his body of work, not just the glorious singles. Tonight’s opening brace, 2010’s “Wake Up the Nation” and 2005’s “From the Floorboards Up”, shows he can still write those when he wishes, and that his creativity revived on record before he cleaned up his life.
As if to prove Weller’s point, the most potent song tonight is “Sea Spray”, from 2008’s sprawling 22 Dreams. It combines the punch of prime Spector or Springsteen with the vaguely Gaelic, folk football chant you might have expected from Rod Stewart forty years ago. As the hits stay stubbornly thin on the ground, though, the mellow, pastoral mood of most Weller solo music seems a strange fit for this rammed venue of middle-aged Mods. Injections of adrenalin are perversely few, given the potential ammunition. “The Changingman” also seems a more theoretical than true personal anthem, as he selects songs as uniformly influenced by Traffic as he once was by The Who. When Ronnie Wood, an ex-Face as well as a current Stone, guests on “Be Happy Children”, he fits right in.
When Weller jerks his head back from the mic, knowing the crowd will roar the chorus as he finally pulls the trigger on The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice”, it’s a blast of the more urgent British soul otherwise missed tonight.