Paul Weller has been a constant point in the British music scene ever since The Jam arrived, fully formed and full of vitality, back in 1977. Taking influence from the mod explosion, he repackaged it into something new as the new wave and punk scene took off, a trick he repeated at the dawn of Britpop as the likes of Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene paid homage. Nowadays, he dips his toes into an ever-changing experimental and creative mood with every new release. He can, and does, basically just whatever he damn well pleases, and why not – unlike any of his original peer group, he doesn’t have to fall back on heritage and nostalgia when on the road, and his creative star stills burns dazzlingly bright in the studio.
Support tonight came from Irish rockers The Strypes, whose dapper outfits show that they have evidently been taking fashion advice from the ever-stylish main man. There’s an obvious connection between main act and support musically, though The Strypes do perhaps suffer from having an overly-familiar sound at times (not helped by the dress sense perhaps). A short but punchy set pulled from their whole back catalogue, though it was the older (and more recognisable to the casual fan) material such as ‘Mystery Man’ and ‘Blue Collar Jane’ that resounded the most tonight. There may be nothing hugely original about what they do, but they do it very well and are sure to be winning a few more fans on this tour.
Bounding on stage to ‘Alpha’ and a suitably psychedelic Close Encounters-style light show, it’s apparent that Weller is in a very, very good mood. Shortly into the set he declares, “It’s good to be back in Brighton on a Saturday night”, and it certainly seemed true with a big grin never far from his face – and that is soon reflected back from everyone in a venue that could have probably sold out two or three times over. What transpires over the next two and a quarter hours is a show that leapt between all of Weller’s different periods with a consummate ease and ability, an exquisitely paced event that concentrated on his modern work without ever losing sight of the fan favourites. With the first portion of the show largely coming from last year’s A Kind Revolution and its predecessor Saturns Pattern, it was not a night that would have satisfied anyone attending out of a purely Jam-based nostalgia – and quite right too. The recent run of albums show an artist who is only interested in looking forwards, and tracks like ‘White Sky’ and ‘Nova’ sound massive live.
Wrestling every beautiful note from his guitar while still possessing that rich distinctive voice, Weller is obviously the main focus – but the band that have formed around him are all of the highest level and it is a solo outfit in name only. Steve Cradock on guitar was, of course, exceptional – as was Andy Crofts on bass. However, it was the two percussive geniuses Steve Pilgrim and Ben Gordelier that earned MVP status tonight – ‘My Ever Changing Moods’ felt almost like jazz with the two separate beats and rhythms merging seamlessly. Such was the cohesion and quality of the band, that when the first song by The Jam appeared (Sound Affects’ ‘Man In The Corner Shop’) it sounded as if it had only ever been performed by this band rather than anyone else. It’s hard to think of any other artist that has moved so successfully and clearly away from a beloved band as Weller, while losing none of the magic of the early days.
Referencing the start of his return to fame in the early 90s, Weller described his comeback show in the Zap Club in this very city. Only 125 fans were present that night, though easily two or three times that number seemed to claim being there tonight! When hearing the likes of ‘Into Tomorrow’ from his self-titled debut solo album, it’s easy to hear the sound that nearly every indie-rock band of the 90s took something from – it was so packed with swagger and groove, and was also so obviously the missing link between The Stone Roses and the Ashcrofts and Gallaghers of this world.
Eventually, the hits came of course. They were greeted like the very best of returning friends. With not one but two lengthy encores, there was time for a gorgeous rendition of ‘Wild Wood’, plus ‘Broken Stones’, ‘English Rose’, ‘That’s Entertainment’ and more. By the time the night was capped by ‘Town Called Malice’, a show that had been simmering perfectly was allowed to boil over with delight. Paul Weller may not be beholden to his past, but he is also not resentful of it – and finishing off a stunning evening like this was the perfect way to show it.