Paul Weller, Royal Albert Hall, London
Andrew WK, Den & Centro, London
After two decades squandering his pop legacy, Paul Weller finally returns to his edgy prime
Sunday 30 May 2010
Make no mistake, I was a teenage Wellerist. Paul Weller radicalised my outlook and sharpened my dress sense, and I hung on his every word, right down to memorising bits of dialogue from the videos ("Wotcha ... mind the motor!").
Every utterance in interviews was dissected in the playground, every photoshoot the cue to save up the holiday-job wages to order a knock-off version of whatever he was wearing from Melanddi of Carnaby Street. (I swear it wasn't a lab coat. It was a stylish white mac, OK?)
So it was that in the spring of 2009, I watched with resigned sadness as Weller played up to his Nineties dad-rock persona, going through the motions and pulling cock rock poses. There's still a bit of that tonight, but something's returned that wasn't there even 12 months ago.
With a silver-grey feather cut and a tan that's less orange in the flesh than some photos suggest, the 52-year-old, surprisingly buff in a tight black T, wrestles his Rickenbacker and wriggles his whole body upwards from the floor, like a salmon held by its tail. His renewed venom coincides with a universally acclaimed album, Wake Up The Nation, which has done much to restore the faith of those who'd given up on this former hero.
The Weller I worshipped was the man who had the balls to walk out on the biggest band in Britain because they were limiting him musically. The man who strolled up to the studio for Band Aid tapping an umbrella on the ground, while the other 1980s superstars rolled up in taxis. The man who challenged his macho fanbase by embracing homoeroticism, languidly stroking Mick Talbot's hair in the "Long Hot Summer" video.
And the man who was forward looking enough to leave behind the clench-teethed British Bulldog aggression of "Eton Rifles" and "Going Underground", and broaden his horizons to encompass Italian couture, American soul music and French political thought. Well, that breadth of vision is, quite unexpectedly, back.
At the opening night of this five-gig residency, featuring a string section and a guest turn by south London soul newcomer Rox (on Marvin's "How Sweet It Is"), it's noticeable that the new material ("From the Floorboards Up", and the instant-classic single "No Tears to Cry") doesn't feel like filler in between the Wild Wood/Stanley Road crowd-pleasers, even though it's inevitably the Jam joints ("Pretty Green", "Art School", "Start!") that really shake the ceiling discs.
The Style Council's heroic slayer of the rockist dragon may be gone for ever, but a noble new incarnation has emerged, and at last there's some life behind those eyes. Ah, Mr Weller. We'd been expecting you. Welcome back.
An Andrew WK gig isn't an Andrew WK gig unless at least one person has got blood streaming down their face, and tonight that person is me.
It all starts so well. Wearing the same filthy white T-shirt and jeans he's worn unwashed for a decade, the gonzo rocker announces: "This isn't a concert. I didn't come here to play a concert. I came here to party!" Best known as an evangelical missionary for the radical fundamentalist wing of a hardcore hedonistic church whose Year Zero was the Beasties' "Fight for Your Right", Andrew Wilkes-Krier has diversified into a renaissance man in recent years.
He's become the best motivational speaker this side of Tom Cruise in Magnolia, the best TV weatherman ever (check YouTube for glorious evidence of both), as well as a relentlessly positive agony uncle for Rock Sound magazine (which organised this one-off show). He's also confessed – perhaps "claimed" would be the safely sceptical verb – that he originally auditioned for the role of Andrew WK, raising interesting questions about the notion of authenticity and identity in rock.
In any case, he's AWK in excelsis tonight, one man and an electric piano which he hammers to the backing track like the demonic grandchild of Jerry Lee Lewis, eyes rolling backwards as he does high-speed skier moves with his arms, crowd-surfs like Christ being carried from the cross, and generally galvanises a crowd which, at his never-explained request, has come brandishing inflatable bananas. After a couple of songs, there's an impromptu trapeze act overhead by a couple of untrained gay guys. The Andrew WK effect in action.
Then the invasion begins. "Will you help me over the barrier?" asks the girl in front of me, and as I obligingly lift her over, her kneecap slams into my nose. When the searing pain subsides and I feel the warm drips on my hand, I realise how cool this is. I'm at an Andrew WK gig and I've got a genuine nosebleed, just like the iconic photo on the front of I Get Wet, the insanely adrenalised debut album from which most of the set list is drawn.
By the time he erupts into "Party Hard", he's barely visible among a stage full of party-crazed punters who are groping various parts of his anatomy. One of them is even inserting a pink dildo into his buttock cleavage. Then I realise it's the same girl I helped over the barrier.
For a moment I feel vaguely responsible, but I decide it all balances out. A nosebleed for me, a rectal violation for him. That, my friend, is a fair exchange.
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