Gig review: Paul Weller at First Direct Arena, Leeds
Three songs into his set at the First Direct Arena a silver-haired Paul Weller, looking tanned and lean in a blue shirt, grey trousers and two-tone shoes, pauses to address the 10,000-strong audience.
“We’re going to be playing all sorts of stuff tonight,” he announces. “Old songs, new songs.”
Over the course of a remarkable two and a quarter hours of music the Modfather is true to his word. Three months shy of his 60th birthday, it seems he’s happier to dig deep into his back catalogue than ever before.
Six songs from The Jam surface, including an incendiary version of The Eton Rifles, complete with an extended dub section during which Weller and long-time bandmate Steve Cradock trade guitar licks. Weller dedicates the song to Jacob Rees-Mogg. “What a f***ing drip,” he adds. “The new face of the Tory Party.”
There’s also a trio of numbers Weller wrote during his time in The Style Council. A joyful rendition of Have You Ever Had It Blue is preceded by the observation: “This is from the 80s, which was a s*** decade, so bear that in mind. This was one of the good things that came out of it.”
An organ-driven My Ever Changing Moods and a punchy Shout To The Top show how Weller’s output from the 80s is ripe for rediscovery. The soulful influence of Curtis Mayfield and the Isley Brothers would bleed into the first of his 13 solo albums, a period in the early 90s when Weller jokingly remembers tonight “I was still trying to climb the rocky road to superstardom”. It’s commemorated here by the inclusion of a dreamy Above The Clouds and the rousing Into Tomorrow, which has an added drum and percussion coda.
Inevitably there are strong nods to Weller’s two most recent studio albums, Saturns Pattern and A Kind Revolution, the pick of which is arguably the fierce riffola of Long Time and the sumptuous piano ballad Long Long Road.
There’s a surprise revival of the 2006 single Wild Blue Yonder and Weller turns to a 12-string guitar for the Beatles-ish Hung Up. But both are outshone by Man In The Corner Shop, a magnificent, chiming song from The Jam’s Sound Affects album that many here could be forgiven for thinking they would probably never hear live again.
For the first encore Weller’s five-piece band reduces to a seated quartet, featuring the singer accompanied on acoustic guitars by Cradock, bassist Andy Crofts and drummer Steve Pilgrim. It includes two stone-cold classic Jam songs, English Rose and That’s Entertainment, plus Wild Wood, Hopper and Out Of The Sinking.
The second encore is electric and equally generous as the first. While introducing The Weaver, Weller quips about Cradock: “This is the first song that we ever played together...while he was still in Status Quo”. As the melodic shuffle of Broken Stones gives way to the snap and crackle of Start!, the band is joined by Cradock’s teenage son Cassius on additional guitar. His arrival on stage is greeted with a proud paternal fist-bump.
The band bids goodbye with an exhilarating Town Called Malice, but many in the crowd could have happily stayed for more. As he nears his seventh decade, Weller’s fire burns more brightly than ever.