Paul Weller, Astoria, London

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The Independent Culture

If he hasn't done so already, it surely can't be long before Paul Weller takes up residence in National Treasure Street. Though often a curmudgeon in the past, he has mellowed into a wholly likeable man. Part über-geezer and part style icon, Weller knows the worth of a great haircut, but he wouldn't dream of reaching for the Grecian 2000. Grey, venerable, and 50 years old next year, he's acquired a gravitas to match his talent.

Tonight, he's topping the bill at an event in aid of the music-therapy charity Nordoff-Robbins. It's an unplugged affair that has been organised by his sister, Nicky. By the time the Modfather takes the stage, we've already seen acoustic sets from the likes of Ocean Colour Scene, Tim Burgess of The Charlatans, and Chris Difford of Squeeze. Weller looks typically dapper in a fitted blue-leather jacket, cream trousers and spats, and is joined by Steve Cradock, the versatile Ocean Colour Scene guitarist who has been part of his touring band since the early 1990s.

Opener "Into Tomorrow" is all energy and edge, Weller and Cradock chopping out cross-rhythms on acoustic guitars. We then get The Jam's "Butterfly Collector" and the title track of Wild Wood, the register of our host's vocal pitched to wring maximum soul from his voice. The crowd soon take over the chorus and he and Cradock sit it out smiling.

Weller moves to the piano to air "Pan", followed by "Wings of Speed", Cradock's role as texture-generator now involving a stint at the mellotron.

Further in, soul-pop nugget "I Wanna Make It Alright" has a hugely infectious skip and bounce. Weller downs his acoustic guitar and briefly dances with a woman who has been sitting side of stage. Such frivolity was largely absent from Weller's angry-young- man years, but tonight he's clearly out to enjoy himself.

The crowd mock-jeer when the Modfather laments "that old smoky atmosphere you used to get at gigs", then sparks up a prohibited fag. After taking a few restorative puffs in quick succession, he fans the smoke with a towel.

There are no encores, but the set closers are the requisite biggies. Weller belts out the old Jam hit "That's Entertainment" with no audible trace of familiarity fatigue, the oxygen of the crowd's adulation and he and Cradock's ardent strumming propelling the song to marvellous effect. By contrast, "Shadow of the Sun" is a slow-moving, tripped-out affair, Weller's heartfelt vocal swelling on a tidal wave of echo that lifts us out and into the night.

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