ROCK & JAZZ / At last, a style to call his own

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
ANYONE passing along the southern edge of Hyde Park this week may have noticed a smouldering ruin where the Albert Hall used to be. The culprit showed the Heritage Secretary not only a clean pair of heels but also an expensive pair of shoes. That man Paul Weller: he came and he rocked.

In the course of the evening, Weller shakes his head up and down in the throes of hard-ecstasy; he plays long guitar solos; he sits down at the piano with his back to the audience; he smiles a lot; in short, he does many things he was never expected to do, and does them brilliantly. Weller's clothes are still casual but smart - he is one of the few non-who can wear white trousers without embarrassment - but he is newly light of heart. After years of frantic searching he has hit upon a musical style to call his own.

The tough but tender mod psychedelia of his latest album Wild Wood (Go] Discs) is the best move he's made in years, and he knows it. Excepting covers (Traffic's 'Feelin' Alright', Neil Young's 'Ohio', and a jokey snatch of The Who's 'Magic Bus'), he plays nothing that wasn't written this decade - those who want to hear Jam songs can put the records on when they get home - but if ever a show had 'golden age of rock' written through it, this one does. It has been widely observed that Paul Weller has taken 15 years to make a musical journey that Steve Winwood (swapping the Spencer Davis Group for Traffic) made in one, but Winwood did not have so much baggage to carry. He was not the British Bob Dylan. He never shopped at Mister Byrite.

Weller's folksiness is a way of shrugging off a burden of expectation. With it comes a certain lyrical vagueness - goodbye Tube stations and street names, hello wild woods - but if this is the price to be paid to have him singing and playing the guitar as well as this, so be it. The music, in a serrated 'Sunflower' and a tumbling 'Holy Man', is crunchier than ever. Weller's well-balanced band - Yolanda Charles on bass, Steve Craddock on back-up guitar, Style Councillor Steve White on drums and Helen Turner on keyboards - are the perfect foil for his lusty machismo. They do their jobs efficiently and with some style; he struts about like a rooster with a feather-cut.

'Can I ask you something?' Pulp's Jarvis Cocker demands on first acquaintance with a packed but not over-attentive crowd at the Astoria II, 'Do you want something to happen tonight?' The response is muted. 'Because if you want something to happen,' Jarvis continues, dry as yesterday's madeira cake, 'we can make something happen.' Having spent more than a decade on the bottom of bills no one in their right mind would want to be on top of, this man is not about to waste his shot at the big time.

Whether wishing to allay the widespread disappointment that greets the flu-ridden non-appearance of fast-rising support act Elastica, or merely sensing the presence of arrivistes ripe for corruption, Jarvis is extraordinarily communicative between songs. He shares with us everything from the anti-climactic nature of his early sexual experiences to a recent trauma involving his Hillman Imp and a posse of joyriders. The new song that has emerged from this, appropriately entitled 'Joy Riders', is going to be one of his very best.

The band seem to have put on muscle; their wobbly keyboards and dentist's-drill noises are more together now, but Jarvis is the star. He dances as if under attack from an invisible assailant. His singing is laced with the anguished yelps of a man who has just swallowed ice cream that was too cold for him.

When legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders takes the stage for his third night at Dingwalls, some of the audience are still eating their dinner. This always seems disrespectful to me; if they're so hungry why don't they just go to Pizza Hut?

Mr Sanders is oblivious to such insolence. His imposingly stately attire - blue pill-box hat and sequinned halberd - is compounded by a striking resemblance to Jomo Kenyatta. The rest of his quartet are younger, but they start their set in the true spirit of free jazz, that other great black independence movement, echoing African decolonialisation. The amusing whoop and wobble of a selection of amplified toys gives way to a first number proper that reaches a peak of amazing intensity. As the rhythm builds and Sanders summons up blast after icy blast of melodious breath, his silver beard and moustache flutter until it seems his head is going to come off.

Things quickly mellow out. For all the forbidding reputation he forged with John Coltrane, Sanders is more of an all-round entertainer now. He sings - 'I've got the blues]' - dances, and graces both supper-and Acid Jazz standards with his pure and fluid tone. The mischief and holiness have not left him either. He wanders back from an early off-stage sortie with saxophone in one hand and beer bottle in the other, and proceeds - at some length - to play the bottle.

Weller: Ipswich Regent, 0473 28148, tonight. Sanders: Bristol Trinity Arts Centre, 0272 550659, tonight; Manchester Al's Music Cafe, 061-236 9971, tomorrow.

(Photograph omitted)