REVIEW / No mod cons, thanks: How to go from mod to hippy in a little under 15 years - Jim White watches Paul Weller wow the Royal Albert Hall
Thursday 25 November 1993
As the subdued coiffure implied, this was to be a no-nonsense Weller. Dressed down in a long-sleeved grandad shirt and nondescript brown jeans, he came accompanied by an Opportunity 2000 group: women on bass and keyboards balancing men on acoustic guitar and drums. In the middle, Weller, all elbows, collar-bone and Peter Beardsley jaw, chopped angularly at his guitar.
This tight fivesome immediately embarked on the great swathe of material Weller has written since his crisis. All of Wild Wood, the splendid new album, was to be performed, together with half-a-dozen as yet unrecorded new songs. And no matter how hard the lad in the nostalgic front-of-stage scramble shouted for 'In The City', there was to be no looking back.
In his Style Council days Weller seemed to be a man searching for a musical identity, trying on forms as a snappy dresser might jackets in a tailor's shop, to see if any fitted. Here he looked snug in his new harmonic outfit. Almost everything he tried worked: the French boulevardier shuffle during a blistering version of the title track from Wild Wood, the Carlos Santana guitar licks, even the trippy version of 'Magic Bus' performed in strobe lighting as an acid bubble light- show played on the back-cloth. At this point the thought occurred that, while it took The Who three years to transmogrify from mods to hippies, Weller has taken five times as long to cover the same distance.
Fortunately, despite the occasional Quo- style mega-ending which would have benefited from acquaintance with the pruning shears, he has too much cool to take the next step into progressive self-indulgence. Everything he did was underpinned by a dynamic rhythm driven by bassist Rowanda Charles and drummer Steve White, who, wisely on a night as chilly as this, came wrapped up in an Alf Garnett muffler. And you can't play Rick Wakeman with a unit as neat as that behind you.
To complement his song-writing maturity is a new voice. The fury and violence that used to stalk the back of the Weller throat, and which he had to physically restrain with a clenched jaw, have gone. If he had sung a ballad called 'Amongst Butterflies' in the old Jam days, he would have sounded as if he wanted to tear the creatures wing from wing. Now that he no longer sings through teeth and a wad of chewing gum, his voice has been released from its angry chrysalis to emerge a wonderful thing: adaptable, smooth, at times almost moving. When he brought on his partner DC Lee (oddly wearing a matching his-and-hers hair-style) to help him through a couple of numbers, she didn't show him up, which is quite a testament. He showed his respect for her larynx, incidentally, by waving his pint pot in her direction when she departed.
What gain he has made in the voice, however, seems to have been at the expense of lyrical power. Writing about violence on public transport, small-town pettiness or how to solve problems in the judiciary, Weller was the sharpest social observer of the New Wave. Now he has gone all poetic, inhabiting a Woodstockian world of natural phenomena. Here we had 'Above The Clouds', 'Shadow Of The Sun' and 'Like A Dream On An Ocean.' Next thing, he'll be joining Sting in a crusade against mahogany.
But whatever he was singing about, and he had enough spanking new work to keep it up for nearly two hours, Weller made compelling viewing. Even when he turned his back on the audience to address his piano, the sight of the back of his barnet bobbing was strangely magnetic. At one point during the encore, as he was hammering away at the keys, a dancing Noddy glove puppet popped up over the back of his instrument, prompting something no one ever thought they would see: a big Paul Weller grin.
During the second encore, an Albert Hall jobsworth switched on the house lights as a hint that time was up. Everywhere you looked, the audience was on its feet, applauding. These were people who would have donated blood for a quick run-through of 'Going Underground', 'A Town Called Malice' or 'You're The Best Thing'. Instead, they were treated to nothing that was more than three years old. And they loved it. Their reaction suggested that, for once, the programme notes may not have been marinated in hyperbole.
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Kim Kardashian on Bruce Jenner's 'story': 'We support him no matter what, and I think when the time is right, he'll talk'
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Mike Tindall, Jodie Kidd and co take to the slopes
Game of Thrones: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as he can keep his clothes on
Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' goes viral 35 years later
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Churchill: The Nation's Farewell, TV review: Paxman reveals truth behind crane docker tribute, but delivers a fitting honour to Winston
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia