Paul Weller - The Royal Albert Hall
With Modfather motifs adorning the stage and Weller-wannabees lining every tier with Lego-man haircuts, the atmosphere at the Royal Albert Hall was as electrified as an eel on a day out to a pylon factory, and every ounce of it was concentrated on just one man (you probably know who it is, but I’ll build it up a little bit more). Amidst pre-gig mutterings of set-list predictions common curiosity raised the question, “I wonder if he’ll play a lot of new material?” Turns out the bloke next to me would be delighted, and a few others would be left disappointed.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though; in fact it was far from it. With the lights poised to reflect perfection, and the heap of guitars assembled on the side, it was time to let Paul Weller command the Hall and make Prince Albie proud. After all, it’s not every day you get to witness an icon within an icon, now is it?
As the man himself strutted onstage with a cock-sureness reclaimed from Robbie Williams, the crowd erupted into a fit of cheering that echoed around the Hall like a Mexican wave at a football match. His Modliness had arrived and, oh my, did London know about it. No sooner had Weller assumed position than the sharp-edged riffs of ‘Into Tomorrow’ reverberated throughout, refracting off the Victoriana and onto the goose-pimpled skin of the now enlivened crowd. The vocal knob was switched to the max, ready for the onslaught of boogie-woogie piano that got abused during ‘Moonshine’, removing a few chairs from their brackets in the process. It was at this moment that Weller’s innate ability to bring intimacy to any sized venue came into its own. He was commandeering the stage like Nelson on board HMS Victory, all in the presence of a light show once seen in Star Wars.
Once the diesel-fuelled tones of ‘From The Floorboards Up’ had been consumed, Weller indulged the audience in a - sort of - compliment: “It’s our first night tonight. It’s supposed to be the quiet one. Tonight’s different I think”. This, as expected, released a surge of energy from the top tier down, with the crowd christening the announcement of this maiden voyage with an award-winning raucous that no doubt led to a few sore throats. Almost as if to calm them down, Weller and Co. launched into ‘All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)’ which offered a bounty of stringed sublimity that would’ve even amused Queen Victoria. The hypnotic strums of the guitars filled the Hall like the cries of ghosts past, echoing Paul’s eminence around the oval, only to become more emphasised by the Batman-esque spotlight that pin-pointed his talent like a Modfather Messiah. In fact the keen ones in the audience would’ve waved lighters about if it wasn’t such a fire hazard.
After then announcing that he had hairspray in his eyes, Weller burst into ‘Wake Up The Nation’, a track that most definitely woke up the neighbourhood. With each strum came a rock-injected rhythm, and of course the worry that he might pull his back out. The medical concern was mostly overlooked by the audience though, who spent most of the time making their own sporadic ‘rhythmic’ movements. This then gave way to what I like to call the ‘give the arthritis a rest’ section. Weller took to the piano and jingled into ‘Invisible’, ironically something that he definitely was not. ‘Trees’ then became the next order of the day, a kind of Weller rhapsody of organs, drums, strings, and guitars that finished with a serenade which got everyone’s hearts pumping. There was definitely a lot of love in the room that’s for sure. After a self-confessed “psychedelic tango” of ‘One Bright Star’ and a rather random drum solo that built some sort of 70s nostalgia, Paul met sentimental demands by announcing “I’m going to play an old song now”. And that he did. ‘Shout To The Top’ got one of the best receptions of the night, with Paul pouring out as much onstage energy as if he were still a wee Weller-snapper. And although it was a little noticeable that a few of the women should’ve perhaps worn bras, there was no denying that the performance deserved the standing ovation it received.
It was quite surprising to then hear Paul welcome onstage London’s sultry songster Rox. The sound of her silk-lined vocals in harmony with Weller’s can only be described as like dipping your ear into honey. After their slowed-down soulful rendition of ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’ they broke into ‘Wild Wood’, a track sang like a chorus of fallen angels. As soon as Rox strolled offstage Paul launched like a leaping stag into the classic realms of ‘Start!’, which sent energy through the crowd as effectively as a box of Pro Plus, releasing a wave of Jam-packed gusto (oh yes, that’s a pun), into the knees and arms of the audience who lapped up the symbolism of their deity.
In this mighty wake, Paul Weller and gang did a total of two encores, all featuring new, down-beat material that soothed the once energised atmosphere and created a sense of calm. Sitting onstage like a blue-grass player, he was teasing us with his Modfather status, keeping his aces of the pack closely to his chest at an attempt of trying to get away from Weller clichés and firmly sticking to his solo-career guns. Although some were disappointed Weller didn’t indulge in the ultimate crowd-pleasers, it’s clear that ‘Town Called Malice’ isn’t the only song in a remarkable back catalogue.