Paul is Dead. That's what the more unhinged Beatles obsessives would have you believe. McCartney, so the myth has it, crashed his Aston Martin into a lamppost on 9 November 1966, died, and was secretly replaced by a chap called Billy Shears, winner of a Paul McCartney lookalike competition. There have been times when I've been convinced that the Paul Weller I believed in must have been abducted circa 1989 and replaced by the perma-tanned man we see tonight, with the highlighted hair of a Jeremy Kyle gran.
My Paul Weller is the Paul Weller who, in 1981, wrote an essay on Futurism. The Paul Weller who, in 1983, vowed in Flexipop! magazine to "destroy rock music and rock culture". The Paul Weller who, in 1986, told Go Go fanzine that, "The whole attitude of rock stinks, I'd rather play Himalayan nose flute". Not the impostor who ends tonight's gig – a warm-up for the big O2 show – hoisting his fretboard aloft like the head of a slaughtered enemy.
The Paul Weller who emerged in the 1990s was a different animal. Like a sinner before the gates of heaven he went running back to rock, and with the zeal of the repenter he sold orthodox heritage rockism to the Loaded generation, while consorting with brain donors like Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene (whose Steve Craddock is in Weller's band tonight). And it's that era for which his current crowd are nostalgic: "Wild Wood", "Changing Man" and "Broken Stones" (the only great song by Nu Weller) get the loudest roars from ageing lads who bought into that "Modfather" rubbish.
The Sister Sledge and Rose Royce covers of 2004's Studio 150, and the soul influence on half of his latest album, 22 Dreams, almost had me fooled that he'd reconnected with his soul-boy spirit, but tonight, after the 10th piece of purple-lit psychedelic dad-rock, it is clear we're in for a traditional white male rock experience. The nearest he gets to sweetness is "You Do Something to Me", on which he plays piano. Romance was never Weller's forte – a carnation clutched in his fist – but that's what makes it endearing. Pre-kidnap tunes – "Eton Rifles", "The Butterfly Collector" and "Shout to the Top" – are scattered like crumbs before hungry pigeons. Instead, my abiding memory of tonight will be of four men on stools, harmonising about "misty mornings". It's everything my Paul Weller used to stand against. If this is your Paul Weller, you're welcome to him.
There's a Union Jack on Pete Doherty's amp. There's a Union Jack in the crowd too, wrestled back and forth in the hands of posh, braying youths. In between the flags he stands, singing a song called "Last of the English Roses". Maybe it's because I'm not English, but I'm struggling to grasp what is being communicated here. (So, you were born north of the White Cliffs, east of the Marches and south of Hadrian's Wall? Well done, have a biscuit.) All I'm seeing is an indie rock Last Night of the Proms.
Strip away the delicacy and deftness of Doherty's songwriting – and he's been doing a damn fine job of that himself lately – and all you're left with is the last cursory after-shudder of Britpop. Doherty reduces me to tears tonight, and not in a good way. Being subjected to interminable tuneless skiffle-ska, strummed on the off-beat at ear-bleeding volume, makes me feel like Noriega under CIA siege.
He's looking relatively clean and healthy these days – the ghouls whoop every time he swigs some alcohol, secretly hoping to witness another train wreck – which is a mixed blessing: it allows him to play 90 minutes of this stuff. The set-up is uncharacteristically slick, with producer Stephen Street on guitar (it'll be Graham Coxon later in the tour), Dot Allison provides guest vocals, and there's even a string trio cretinously stapled on, which is a bit like asking Michelangelo to fix the Artex in your spare room.
The hysteria surrounding Doherty has faded slightly, and the balcony is half-empty. The front rows, though, scream "Peeete!" during every silence, and throw trilbies (he wears these), bras (sadly, he doesn't wear these), and a pint of beer, which prompts him to almost smash his guitar over the perpetrator's head, until he remembers himself and says, "No, let's be professional" (although he does hurl his drink in their face straight afterwards).
Midway through "New Love Grows on Trees", someone chucks a fag at Pete's feet. "Don't throw lit cigarettes on stage", he scolds, while jokily taking a puff. "You know the rules. Whole gig gets cancelled, 20 grand fine, and the place gets evacuated."
Has anyone got a light?