Thursday, June 18, 2015

Didn't We Have A Nice Time: Paul Weller at The Vic

DOWN AT THE ROCK & ROLL CLUB—I did something last night that I've wanted to do since I was fifteen: see Paul Weller. Other than the Beatles, there was no band more important to me in my teen years then The Jam, whose albums and singles I devoured and whose news sightings were, in those days, far and few between: I might see an interview in Trouser Press or a rare weeks-old issue of Melody Maker or NME, but mostly the very-British Jam lived for me in their stirring, passionate songs. I came close to seeing them: for my sixteenth birthday my brother chose to buy me the Dance Craze album rather than go with his other idea, tickets to The Jam show at University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum. (I've since charitably forgiven him.)

I was a Weller Apostle for many years. In college I followed Weller into The Style Council, buying every single, twelve-inch, and album at Yesterday and Today Records—at import prices—and hopeful to catch a video on MTV or Friday Night Videos late at night. These decades later, my enthusiasm for the Style Council embarrasses me, though my fandom was a sincere element of my early-twenties "scanning." I rarely listen to their music now, as most of it's ghastly, dated, and painfully self-conscious, especially from their later career. Rising to the surface when I do listen is the inescapable fact that, after 1985 or so, I was stubbornly determined to like them (and ape their fashion sense) even as their work grew wan and boring, having little to do with my life. And Weller had turned his back on the guitar, a grave sin in my book those days. (OK, these days, too.) By the end of the 1980s, I was through with Weller, and didn't reacquaint myself with him until several years ago when I began methodically going through his large solo catalog, surprised and deeply pleased at what I found. I'd missed him in Chicago the last several years, but—via the generosity of my friend Jay, who scored VIP tickets and asked me along—I went to see Weller last night, at The Vic.

The show was terrific: muscular, lively, energetic. Each of Weller's solo albums has strong moments, but his albums since 2008's 22 Dreams have been uniformly strong, eclectic, warm, and often surprising, but rarely indulgent, texturally, I'll always prefer the rocking/soulful//Mod Weller to the piano-playing balladeer, acoustic folk artist, or electronica novice, but I'll always love his singing, his commitment to song-craft, and what Stephen Thomas Erlewine at Allmusic notes as Weller's dependable professionalism. (And he still releases one-off, non-album singles!) Last night he looked lean and fit and happy to be onstage, bouncing around (as much as he does) from guitars to keyboards, obviously grooving on every song and alert to the possibilities for newness that each presented. Saturns Pattern's "White Sky" and "Long Time" were propulsive and rocking and, I was very happy to hear, kicked into gear by loud guitars (Weller's and Steve Craddock's) rather than by keyboards and samplers. "Peacock Suit," "Friday Street," and "From The Floorboards Up" also killed, as did several ballads that seemed warmly right in their pacing. I was dismayed before the show began at the sight of two drum sets, but the setup served the arrangements well; there was little fussiness or excess in the set. Above all, Weller remembered that he was live: no song dragged to the point of dullness.

Even though I knew that "Town Called Malice" (the only Jam song of the night) was coming as the final of three encores, I was still thrilled to hear it, and to sing along with the crowd which has been given the chorus of the song to gang-bellow for years. I've been waiting for a long, long time to be in the same room with Paul Weller as he sings the final, evocative and moving verse of the song, and it didn't disappoint. Earlier in the tune, while singing "A hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to the hearts," Weller dropped his tambourine, shut his eyes and mimed the squeeze of a bottle against his chest—Oscar-level emoting for this Cool Modfather, and it seemed genuine, a reminder, I think, of the loss and political//domestic devastation at the heart of that great song.

The VIP treatment was meant to include a meet-and-greet with Weller, who at some point balked at the prospect and instead signed posters and albums for us. Just as well: such events aren't my bag, and anyway I wouldn't know what I'd say to the man whose song lyrics I dreamily wrote over and over in my high school English notebook.

Ah, When You're Young.

I could go on for hours and I probably will....


Mark said...

Looks and sounds like a great show. Color me jealous.

I here ya on the Style Council. Liked them in college, had Internationalists on cassette and thought Weller and Talbot looked cool. That cassette has long since been jettisoned and I don't think I'd make it through one or two of their songs without getting bored out my mind.

Joe Bonomo said...

You got it.

Hey I liked your post on Beverly Cleary and Kim Gordon. Good stuff. I've got to dig out my old Henry Huggins books.

Mark said...

Thanks, Joe! Nice to know someone is reading that blog of mine. And it means a lot to me that a fine writer like yourself enjoyed my scribblings. Thanks!

Robert Nelson said...

Nice to know someone is reading that blog of mine. And it means a lot to me that a fine writer like yourself enjoyed my scribblings. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Great write up on this concert, Joe. I was a big fan of the Jam in the 80's too (but I really thought the Style Council was a bunch of horseshit). It's nice to hear Weller went on to better things after that. I will have to seek out some of those solo albums. Weller had a way with songs that I loved and it would be cool to find some good, new work by him.

Joe Bonomo said...

Start with his last few. Good stuff.

Marcus said...

Sounds like your English notebook looked a lot like mine.

I was lucky to catch The Jam right at the end in 1982.
Truth be told, I don't remember much about it ... but they were the sound of my youth.

Magical years between 1979-1982 when I was 12-15.
40 years on, I never did grow bionic arms, but then again, I never became Mr Clean either.