Many years ago Paul Weller found himself in a storm of controversy after claiming he would vote Tory in a UK General Election for Prime Minister. -the moral equivalent of voting for Romney over Obama. A bigger political faux pas in the once socialist paradise postponed, it is hard to imagine.
It didn't stick and former Jam and Style Council is as beloved as the Queen Mother (I know, was) but the conservatism has stuck at least musically. His set at Best Buy on Saturday night was the man we have seen for over 35 years; playing his solo material, more,than that, his 21st Century solo material, looking back atsome mid-90s solo career highs and throwing in an occasional Jam song for taste. We could have gotten the career retrospective he played last year in London but whatever: Weller will be Weller. Looking like a mix of a High Numbers fan, a metrosexual in 1997 and Rod Stewart, the fit, handsome 53 year old lead a stellar rock band and string quartet through two hours of old fashioned rock.
And it was very very good: there is a comfort level in a well constructed set by an old pro, you can just hand Weller the wheel and say, "Hey, you drive". The first section was the entire new album, the pretty good Sonik Kicks, played from one end to the other, with Weller stopping the proceedings only to say "This would be Side Two" at the midway point. Sonik Kicks is okay, nothing great, but it has a couple of fine songs, "The Attic" and "When Your Garden's Overgrown" , and a couple of songs that improve with a string quartet, "By The Water" and the anthemic, for his two kids (who must be suitably mortified) "Be Happy Children". No complaints from me.
"Thanks for indulging me," Weller says in explanation of the Sonic Kicks set, "That was fucking good fun". So is the rest of the evening. Broken into acoustic and electric portion, the acoustic featured FIVE (count em) guitars and the violins from the Quartet and Paul made certain he kept us with his Jam era "The Butterfly Collector" leading the way,and also performed the best song of the night, "Devotion". A new song to me, he wrote it for a BBC TV show and performed it at the Teenage Cancer Fund earlier this year. It is a singularly beatific ballad and better than anything on his last couple of albums.
The electric set is, well, electric, with three tracks off Wake Up The Nation cutting the recorded versions to shreds. "Fast Car/Slow Traffic" is completely fucked up on the record., taken too slow and too low, Weller and his band slaughter it, they slice and dice the audience. A terrific version. This is where Weller should really fly and he really does: he has a cool passion, a hoot, sweet power and he is fabulous. I left ten minutes early to cover the SNL finale, so if he played any more Jam covers I missed them (Friday night he performed "In The City"), but it couldn't have improved the evening by that much.
Paul will never be to the US what he is to the UK. The Modfather is a national institution with a lifetime spanning career in the UK, here he is known mostly for "My Ever Changing Moods". But that is not true of nyc. In nyc , Paul has played a couple of times a year for decade upon decade. In his own conservative, steady way, he is one of our rock and roll greats and it is always a pleasure to watch him perform.