Paul Weller - Wembley Arena
Apart from realising that the anti-tuition fee pledge you once made really wasn’t that realistic, another daunting situation to find yourself in would be the rather precarious task of opening Wembley Arena for a man doused in divine Modliness. So it was for sixties acoustic romancers Cow. Needless to say (and to not miss the opportunity for a good pun) they henced forth like dairy-maids possessed, and milked the crowd for all they’re worth. They did so with an endorphine-activating post-summer solstice, hoisting their guitars on their laps and producing vocals not too distant from those of The Mamas and the Papas. Serenading the sea of suited n’ booted Weller lookalikes, Cow charmed and chimed their way through a rather short fifteen minute set, warming the chilling winter air as they did so. Giving an exception to the unfortunate amount of eardrum squeezing feedback that pierced through the arena, their otherwise soft and non-offensive sound ignited a strange desire for sporadically planting daisies everywhere. Or maybe that was just me. In any case, with intros and dainty sha-la-las reminiscent of KT Tunstall mixed with a beat that can only be described as a bit ‘Postman Pat’, the aural confectionary on display was a nice little entree to the main meat feast to come.
To make use of this already-present sweetness, rock/blues/anything-you-want-them-to-be band, The Bees swarmed onstage with earthquake-inducing bass vibrations that were sent all the way to Westminster and back. Knee-deep in percussion, including a rather nice pair of maracas, the six-piece sent feet shuffling all across the venue with a Bugsy Malone-esque groove which automatically inspired a sway that would get Health and Safety panicking. Instrument-swapping like nobody’s business, the sextet hit their set peak with 2004 favourite ‘Chicken Payback’, an innocent little foot tapper that would only cause offense to the clinically cuckoo (not necessarily the medical term). After their more reasonable half an hour onstage, one thing was most definitely for sure - these Isle of Wight-ers were certainly the bee's knees. Oh the shame.
With about half of the capacity embodying, or should I say, ‘emhairing’ the Modfather’s manicured mullet, Paul Weller must have felt like the Almighty J.C himself when he graced the stage to greet his 12,000-odd disciples on the last date of his 2011 tour. Standing amidst various emblems of his Mod past, like a veteran surrounded by badges of honour, Weller said a rushed “good evening” to every one of his suited ‘n’ booted reincarnates, who, in respect, stopped chewing gum for at least a second before their leader launched into a muffled version of ‘Peacock Suit.’ Backed by a barrage of spinning feathers and strobes on a sugar-high, intending, most probably, to make up for the distinct lack of movement occurring in the foreground, Weller moved into the equally-anarchic ‘7 & 3 is the Striker’s Name’, echoing the same sense of disorder present on the London streets outside. He spat the lyrics like a disaffected member of the youth, experiencing every moment of animosity with what appeared to be the least amount of animation possible. Attempting no doubt to break it down without breaking a hip.
After a half-an-hour or-so onslaught of nothing but a Wake Up the Nation playlist, the crowd become almost as inert as the main man onstage, seemingly waiting with bated breath for a golden nugget from the golden oldie. This realisation must have suddenly dawned on Weller who rapidly spawned a more motivated rendition of ‘From the Floorboards Up’, awakening a drunken bunch at the front and rekindling the well-needed spark of nihilism that was waiting to be ignited within him. It may then have been a tad optimistic to go straight into a brand spanking new track which unfortunately, alike ‘Have You Made Up Your Mind’, didn’t have the desired enthused effect, and instead caused a mini-mass exodus for the bar.
The neck muscles however did get a little work out when an applaud-inciting ‘Into Tomorrow’ made a welcomed appearance. Apparently on a mission to prove that his vocal chords hadn’t done a Bono and upped and left, Weller used his raspy tones to add to the jagged-edged rock-punk that was pouring into Wembley, assenting himself straight into the ranks of Rod Stewart, and doing a little Dad dance as he did it. In an attempt to rectify the movement situation, or rather, lack of, he proceeded to silhouette himself against the sunset spotlights that doused the stage before launching like Apollo 13 into the best received track of the night. Yep, you guessed it – ‘Eton Rifles.’ This was without doubt the money-maker of the set, aligning the crowd to the infamous bass line with the same euphoric enthusiasm that it will undoubtedly receive in another thirty years, even when by that time he’ll be performing it onstage, in a rocking chair, whilst holding a tube of Steradent.
I don’t know whether it was just a reserved audience, who, even after Weller himself stated the bleeding obvious and told them they were “very fucking quiet for a Friday night in London”, still refused to show some sort of sign of life, but there just didn’t seem to be the pizzazz that his faultless vocal performance should have initiated. Maybe many were suffering with numb bum-itus thanks to the arena seats from backbrakingchairs.com, but aside from ‘Wake Up the Nation’, ‘You Do Something To Me’ and ‘Pretty Green’, motionlessness was the order of the night. Granted, at first it seemed Weller wanted to bash through the tracks as quickly as possible, eagerly wanting his last date to all be over so he can have a jolly nice Christmas holiday, but, alike other airings of his Modliness, the audience seemed to have unfortunately forgotten that this was in no shape or form a Paul Weller Greatest Hits tour. There was a higher chance he’d break into a rendition of ‘Little Donkey’ than submit and play more than four Jam songs. Bah Humbug.
Photos by Mike Gray taken at the Manchester Arena.