Paul Weller, Wembley Arena, London
Tuesday 14 December 2010
Boasting a rich career that started with mod-punkers The Jam more than 30 years ago, Paul Weller struck gold again this year. Delirious reviews welcomed the Modfather back to the UK charts in April with his 10th solo album, Wake Up the Nation, a short, sharp and striking work of fresh experimental hits nominated for the Mercury Prize. It's this new material that dominates Weller's set on the last night of his UK tour at Wembley yet, surprisingly, his performance massively misses the mark.
Despite a crisp, smooth and self-possessed rendition of "Have You Made Up Your Mind" from 2008's acclaimed album 22 Dreams, flashes of feedback and incompatible levels undermine Weller's efforts. On the new record, "Aim High" is soulful and uplifting. Yet on stage, overbearing electronic effects result in a bizarre but inescapable (and probably very unwelcome) vocal comparison to an "In the Air Tonight"-era Phil Collins, before plunging Weller's lyrics into a muted, indistinguishable blur.
Next up is a guest appearance by Weller's son Natt on guitar for "Echoes Around the Sun". It's unremarkable, and the fans are unmoved.
"You're pretty quiet for a Friday night in London, aren't you?" he jibes, challenging his motionless fans to prove him wrong. But Wembley doesn't rise to it until Weller stokes up a classic from The Jam archive (one of only two) – "The Eton Rifles". More than three decades after the song was first released, Weller still delivers with biting energy and just enough nonchalance for appearances. It's a hit with the crowd, but sadly the newfound passion doesn't last.
Weller's five year-old son, Mac, makes an unsurprisingly shy entrance onstage as tambourine-player for newbie "Up the Dosage", before a distinctly wet "No Tears to Cry". The usually exciting musical mixture of folk, psychedelia, honky-tonk and pop in "Trees" jars together, the title track from the newest album falls surprisingly flat, while a rendition of "Fast Car" (featuring grime rapper Devlin) feels try-hard. Weller's new material may retain an innovative edge when recorded, but onstage, "That's Entertainment" and Nineties ballad "You Do Something to Me" are still the stars of the show. Judging from this performance, the Modfather has become a dad-rocker.
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