Paul Weller, Royal Albert Hall, London

The unshakeable 'Mod Father' is rejuvenated but too polished
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The Independent Culture

"I just like making music - know what I mean?"

"I just like making music - know what I mean?"

Such were the gripping revelations on offer when Paul Weller was last interviewed by DJ and fellow irritant geezer, Gary Crowley. Surly Jools Holland, Woking's famous son, has become an avuncular patriarch, aligning himself with younger acts such as the Coral and the Stereophonics, keeping it real as a singer/songwriter, and happily strumming in the service of respected veterans such as Robert Wyatt and John Martyn. Ask Weller about Small Faces and you'll never shut him up. But a soundbite to Heat magazine? Forget it.

That said, the Mod Father seems less uptight and set in his ways at 46 than he did at 40. Asked about "Leafy Mysteries", a song from his effervescent last album, Illumination , where he confessed the song's title came from his daughter's Postman Pat comic. Factor in news that tonight's gig pre-stages several that Weller will play in woodland settings in support of the Forestry Commission, and this one-time angry young man begins to look more like an old hippy. Not so long ago he even went vegetarian for a year.

He takes the stage in white trousers and a close-fitting black top. His greying barnet is more closely shorn than when he last toured, and you notice that he carries himself with a certain tautness, a live-wire constantly on the verge of snapping.

Early set highlights include "My Ever Changing Mood" and the aforementioned "Leafy Mysteries", songs in which Weller justifiably stakes a claim as a great British soul voice. For all his past run-ins with critics, moreover - "This is from Helliocentric , I think I was the only person in Britain who liked that album", he says before "The Reason I'm Drinking After You're Dead" - Weller continues to perform with unshakeable authority and self belief.

Further in he airs several songs from his forthcoming, as-yet untitled, album of cover versions. Gil Scott Heron's "The Bottle" is delivered with great affection and oomph and, after we get over the shock of him tackling the old Cher hit "Bang Bang", that proves surprisingly effective, too. If there was a weakness it's that everything seemed too polished, too on-the-money. At times Weller and his band seemed more concerned with finishing songs in perfect synchronisation than communicating with their audience and, except for the louder volume, listening to Weller live probably isn't that different to listening to one of his records at home.

Of course, traditionally, recording a cover-version album has often signalled an artist's need for rejuvenation, reinvention, or some combination of the two, and for Weller, kicking back to pay homage to some of his favourite songs is clearly a no-pressure cinch. He is in a pleasingly distracting holding pattern. But the real test, will be in his next collection.

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