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.
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 was 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 scene, 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....|