James Peutherer reviews Paul Weller's performance at Leicester's De Montfort Hall.
Just 18 when The Jam released their debut single In The City in 1976, Paul Weller has now been a mainstay of British music culture for almost fifty years. His success with The Jam through tracks such as That’s Entertainment, The Eton Rifles and Town Called Malice was followed up by more success in the eclectic style he perfected with The Style Council and tracks such as Shout To The Top!. An eclectic style he has masterfully carried into a long and successful solo career. It is therefore never an opportunity to be sniffed at when ‘The Modfather’ himself goes on tour alongside his acclaimed live band.
De Montfort Hall was the setting for the show, a venue rather classier than that associated with the punk fever of the late 1970s, but then also it must be remembered that this is a different Paul Weller from that time era. The Weller of now has dipped his toes into almost all musical styles, and as such this theatre-like setting feels like the perfect environment for a showcase of Weller’s varied musical catalogue. It is worth nothing as well that the performance has been twice delayed due to the pandemic, however a vast majority of fans have kept hold of their tickets and the almost two year delay from the gig's original date has not stopped De Montfort Hall from being packed to the rafters by fans both seated and standing.
Instantly the setup of the stage creates intrigue - a keyboard sits on one side with Weller’s ballad-ready piano on the other whilst dual drum kits take up the space behind. It is unusual to see a live band employ two kits - The Melvins and The Allman Brothers Band aer the first two that come to mind, however the sheer power that this setup usually delivers along with the variety of drum patterns that can reverberate around the room at a single time always make for a joy to listen to.
The supremely experienced band make their way onto the stage to rapturous applause and cheers, and Weller himself strolls out as stylish, confident and energetic as ever - dressed in a loose blue polo matched with a white trouser and shoe combination. He is accompanied first by his long-time live guitarist Steve Craddock. Craddock himself has enjoyed success with Birmingham based outfit Ocean Colour Scene, whose tracks such as The Riverboat Song and hit album Moseley Shoals were iconic of the 1990s Britpop era that Weller moulded so much of himself. Alongside the two emerges bassist Andy Lewis of The Red Inspectors, the more traditional drummer of the two percussionists - Steve Pilgrim, also known for his work in the reformed version of Liverpool band Cast, and Pilgrim’s accompanying percussionist Ben Gordelier of The Moons who is now a regular member of Weller’s band after holding a more recurrent role earlier on. Last but not least is keyboardist Andy Crofts also of The Moons, who provides much of the versatility that allows Weller to switch freely between tambourine, guitar and piano throughout the set.
''That musical chemistry becomes instantly recognisable as the band explode into life with the opening tracks of their set''
What is instantly noticeable about the band is that it isn’t simply a case of Paul Weller and his backing band, this is very much the Paul Weller Live Band. There is a certain family feel to the collective - you get the impression they all understand each other's importance and have worked tirelessly in developing their musical chemistry. That musical chemistry becomes instantly recognisable as the band explode into life with the opening tracks of their set - mostly compiled from Weller’s more recent musical contributions. The monstrous blues of tracks such as White Sky sound immensely layered for a live performance - much of this thanks to the dual drum set up which as expected gives a real sense of drive and groove to the opening tracks. Gordelier’s drumming style is unconventional as rather than joining Pilgrim with his seat firmly pressed against his stool, he instead prefers to stand a la Isaac Holman of Slaves occasionally reaching for the tambourine in such a style that you would be easily mistaken in thinking it was all masterful improvisation.
Weller’s semi-regular quips with the crowd always produce a grin on the faces of adoring fans. He states that he has a long set for those who have made the trip, making the audience overjoyed to be told that he has no idea when they’ll all be out of there. It isn’t long after this that Weller rolls back the clock for the first time for the first of the songs from his two emblematic outfits - The Style Council’s Headstart for Happiness. Weller and the band are utterly comfortable in recreating that classic Style Council sound, and what is most impressive is how easily they shift between various musical styles for the many parts of Weller’s compendium of classics.
Weller’s voice seems to sit at its all time peak - soulful and full of flavour. The blues filled fire in his voice is a world away from the cheeky London boy charm of his early work. Yet when that London boy charm is required to re-emerge for the first Jam song of the evening Start!, it does so with ease, delivered with all the authenticity of Weller in his youth accompanied by the bellow of his ever impressive live band - with special props to Andy Lewis who carries that ever so famous bassline originally written by George Harrison with swaggerous ease. My personal highlight of the main portion of the set is the rendition of the Style Council’s Shout to The Top!, forever a favourite of mine. The opening notes are infectious in a live setting and Weller bounces through the track with a colossal deal of heart; the song clearly means as much to him now as it did when it was first written all the way back in 1984.
Whilst the trips down memory lane are brilliant moments of fan service delivered with none of the disdain many veteran artists have for their early work, Weller and his band shine the brightest on their funkiest and most experimental in tracks such as Woo Se Mama. The musical talent of the band's members stretch far and wide. Throughout various points in the set, Pilgrim and Crofts take to the acoustic guitar to make sure the drive of the guitars stays a focal point of the band’s sound when Weller takes to the piano. When this happens, Gordelier more than competently carries the band’s percussion on his own back - both Pilgrim and Gorderlier would be more than capable of being the band’s only drummer which makes their partnership vastly enjoyable.
''The musical talent of the band's members stretch far and wide''
As before prophesied by Weller’s statements about the length of the set, one encore is simply not enough for either the band, or those who have come out to the venue. Both encores are packed to brim with standout moments, whether it's the thunderous rock of Come On/Let's Go or the crowd-moving performance of perhaps The Jam’s standout track That’s Entertainment. For Entertainment, Weller invites the crowd to join along - not that they’ve needed any invitation thus far to join with the track that has ‘about forty verses,’ then remarking that he himself ‘can only remember about six’. Unsurprisingly though the audience knows every single word and there's a fantastic glee created in seeing fans of Weller from day one transported to their youth alongside younger fans that are living it all for the first time.
Whilst the band this time around elect not to close the show with Town Called Malice as they have opted to do at other stops on the tour, there is no sense of disappointment. The appreciation of the crowd for the display that they have watched is shown perfectly by the standing ovation that the seating section greets Weller and his band’s bow with. As fans make their way towards the exits, a drum tech causes chaos with a single hit of the snare - could it be yet another encore? As fans rush back in based on that single hit of hope, it is unfortunately only a false alarm. It is however a telling false alarm, revealing the adoration of a crowd clamouring for more who would have undoubtedly watched all night long if the set had continued.
''The appreciation of the crowd for the display that they have watched is shown perfectly by the standing ovation''
Paul Weller and his live band showed the perfect example of the unique ebullience in watching a veteran act. A frontman, songwriter, and guitarist who has been perfecting his act for close to fifty years, alongside a meticulously selected group of musicians each with their own virtuoso-like musical talents who have likewise spent their lives obsessed with developing their sound. The energy of the 18 year old Weller introducing The Jam to the world is still there in abundance, and now it is accompanied by a musically rich, thoroughly experienced, and above all stand-out live act.
Edited by: Amrit Virdi
In-article image courtesy of James Peutherer.