Pop: A Day at the Races/ Paul Weller Crystal Palace, London

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The Independent Culture
There were nine support acts on Saturday's Day at the Races bill, and even though most of them were on and off quicker than novice broncobusters, you had to be selective to avoid aural burn-out. Wisely, an hour's break was scheduled between Skunk Anansie's exit and Paul Weller's entrance. Finally, the Modfather took us all by surprise and bounded on 15 minutes early. I don't know what they're cutting his Sanatogen with these days, but it certainly makes him get his skates on.

He kicked off with an exhilarating version of "Changingman" from Stanley Road, then segued into the rootsy stomping of "Peacock Suit" and "Brushed", two of the stronger tracks from his patchy current album Heavy Soul.

For a man who will be 40 next year, Weller certainly looks remarkably spry. He wore a tight-fitting white T-shirt and had a jumper tied loosely around his waist, umpire style. After just a few minutes the tendons in his neck were raised and pulsing and he was sweating so much that his hair was plastered to his forehead. If there is something to be admired about Paul Weller in 1997, it's his enduring ability to deliver live performances in which he really seems to inhabit his songs. The problem is that it's no longer so easy to share his conviction.

The acoustic-led "Driving Nowhere" - in which Weller was silhouetted against a kaleidoscopic "time-tunnel" backdrop - was one of the few new songs that had the melodic and cinematic reach to truly grip a stadium audience. Elsewhere, however, older songs like "Sunflower", "Broken Stones" and "You Do Something To Me" connected effortlessly. Weller dedicated the latter to "that couple in the very back row underneath the floodlights". He said little, other than the odd "thank-you" to the audience all evening, and you sensed that had he chatted more, he could easily have brought some much needed intimacy to the proceedings. His rendition of the ballad is special in any case, and guitarist Matt Deighton's acoustic-led guitar solo was beautifully expressed.

From doughnut stall to chip van it had been rumoured that Liam Gallagher would duet with Weller on one of the encores. Given Weller's current "elder statesman of Britpop" status, it seemed feasible, but sadly, a rumour was all it was. Instead, he brought on Heavy Soul's co-producer Brendan Lynch to generate sound effects, and keyboard player Mick Talbot to play on "Woodcutter's Son". Had he concluded with "Wild Wood", we would have gone home happy. He didn't. Go figure.