Paul Weller, Usher Hall, Edinburgh
A touch of genius can get this survivor out of a jam
Friday 11 November 2005
Whether he is indeed an untouchable genius, or an old indulgent lag attempting to rekindle teenage memories for his ageing fan base is up for debate. But last night, in the towering splendour of Edinburgh's Usher Hall, a venue guaranteed to lend a sense of grandeur to any event, his performance suggested he has both genius and indulgence flecked through his salt and pepper mop top.
His songs have become woven into the very fabric of British culture. His lyrics are part of the vocabulary of British pop. But to paraphrase the man himself, this is the bitter pill: without Weller there would have been no The La's, Blur or The Streets. But then again we might have never had to suffer the indignity of quite so many truly average Britpop records.
Even if he remains a distinctly British institution these days, his influence is contemporaneous as ever. Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand borrow heavily from Weller's aesthetic. Franz take the sharp style and refined edges while the less sophisticated Kaiser Chiefs harness the energy and vitriol of The Jam. Post-Jam and Style Council Weller enjoyed a trio of quality early solo flourishes - his debut as the Paul Weller Movement in 1992, 1993's Wildwood and 1995's Stanley Road - but he has been locked into a groove of good album, bad album for a decade. He also confessed recently that last year's woeful covers album Studio 150 was merely opportunity to take a break from songwriting and focus on playing, a break which, on evidence of his performance last night, has done him the world of good. While Weller acknowledges the past, he doesn't dwell and while he seems positively gleeful while they thrash through The Jam's "In The Crowd", he submits to only one other Jam song in the set, "That's Entertainment", which has rather overgrown men leaping like spring lambs.
Even in the substantial cache of solo hits he has amassed, he focuses heavily on tracks from his most recent long player, the robust and low-slung As Is Now.
Every time you begin to think he's testing everyone's patience with one extended coda or unfamiliar, if well-meaning noodle too many, he cuts back and delivers. Oddly enough, The Style Council's "Long Hot Summer" is among the freshest songs here and "Wildwood" remains one of his most spectral moments.
The Weller of 2005 is imminently more comfortable in his own skin than that awkward teen scowling his way through "Eton Rifles" in a Heinz ketchup apron on Top of the Pops but there's still fire in his belly at the most vital moments.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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