Security fails to repress enthusiasm of Paul Weller concert
Berklee Performance Center.
By Paula Cuccurullo
Anyone who has listened to Boston's WFNX or read any of a number of music publications in the past few weeks will most likely have heard the buzz about Paul Weller, a British music legend whose time finally may have come in America.
For over a decade, first as guitarist/vocalist/songwriter of punk-pop pioneers the Jam, then as half of the jazzy duo the Style Council, and now on his own with his first self-titled solo album, Weller has never really been out of the limelight in his own country. And, if the reaction to his solo album, his first solo single "Uh Huh Oh Yeah," and his latest tour of this country is any indication, America may finally be ready to look and listen.
Being a Weller fan in the States has, up until this album, been akin to having a favorite cult movie ; those of us "in the know" loved the songs we heard and wondered what everyone else was missing when they'd never even heard of him. Maybe there were more fans out there than anyone could have guessed; Weller himself has said that he is surprised and touched by the many Americans who have told him how much his music has meant to them over the years. The fans at the Berklee show, most of whom seemed to be long-term, seemed excited at the prospect of seeing him in Boston for the first time since the Jam's last tour of the area 10 years ago. Their low-key behavior during the show seemed due in great part to the security in the hall, which discouraged standers and dancers, much to Weller's stated chagrin. But this problem could not diminish the energy of the band, who performed what could be one of their best shows on this tour, on a par with their homecoming show in the massive Royal Albert Hall in London (which I was lucky enough to see) in October.
Weller's new band is hardly new to him; all five of the other players were either in the Style Council during its seven-year existence or in Weller's touring band after the Council broke up in 1990. Their long-term association with each other gives them the freedom to explore more tangents on stage, and their great musical talents give the songs more power in the live format. Drummer Steve White, in particular, has been with Weller virtually non-stop since the beginning of the Council. His powerful drum solo during "Arrival Time," which clocked in at least five minutes, was riveting. His jazz training is evident and his drumming manages to be a significant force without overwhelming the pop music he plays.
Weller's set list included more than half of his new album and some newer, unrecorded songs, but he chose to showcase quite a few older songs (mostly those of the Style Council) as well. It seems that his current introspective attitude is giving him even more of an appreciation of his musical influences (the Who, Traffic, the Beatles) and his own earlier work. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening (after seeing Weller on keyboards for the gorgeous new song "Ends of the Earth") came during the acoustic portion of the set, with just Weller and bassist Camelle Hinds on the stage. After they played the latest UK single "Above the Clouds," Weller prepared to play the next song, which he said they had just started playing again recently, as if to apologize in advance. He needed no apology as he played "A Town Called Malice," one of the Jam's biggest hits here in America. The crowd, which Weller had addressed as the "quietest audience we've played to so far in America," came to its feet and finally showed its appreciation. I can only imagine how frenzied the reaction would have been if he introduced an electric version of this song into his set.
The crowd was more animated for the rest of the set, eventually moving in front of the stage. They danced in defiance of the security guards but to the obvious pleasure of the band. Weller rewarded their enthusiasm with the new song "The Weaver" (a favorite during recent British Weller shows which will probably show up on the next album, due to be recorded in February). The band finished the encores with the last song from the album, the sweeping "Kosmos," a perfect closer and one of the best songs from the album. The band is planning to return to the States sometime in April 1993; it is almost a given that Paul Weller will not be forgotten here before then.
Jill Sobule opened the show with a short but solid set of acoustic pop which reminded me of Shawn Colvin's work with some Christine Lavin-esque humor thrown in for good measure. She amused the crowd by asking which type of songs she should play ("Okay, sad or silly?") and was called back for an encore. I was not familiar with her work before I saw her, but I hope she will come back on her own in the near future so I can hear more.