Middle-aged kicks with The Modfather, steering clear of his Jam/Council back catalogue.
From The Arts Desk
By: Bruce Dessau
I had a terrible fright last week. While listening to BBC London DJ Robert Elms introduce a track from the new Paul Weller album, Sonik Kicks. What I heard sounded remarkably like Oasis. It seemed that the man who once influenced Noel Gallagher was now so bereft of ideas he was reduced to ripping off Noel Gallagher. To my relief Robert Elms followed the track with an apology. He had pressed the wrong button and had played a Noel Gallagher track by mistake.
By contrast Sonik Kicks actually sounds fresher than anything by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. It is clear that Weller feels confident about the album. He started his gig at the Roundhouse last night by playing it in its entirety, despite the fact that most of the audience had probably barely heard it and had come along hoping he would be doing "Going Underground" or "Eton Rifles" instead. The Roundhouse was buzzing with a mixture of shouts for "some old school" and tweets about his hair. Now let's be frank about this latter issue. If you've got enough hair to make it stand up at 53, why not flaunt it?
Weller, in immaculate pinstripe suit, shuttled between keyboards and guitar, while a string section augmented the more pastoral tracks such as "Sleep of the Serene" and "By the Waters". One would have thought after all this time performing would be second nature to the former filling in the Jam sandwich, but there was still a nervous false start to the most accessible track, "That Dangerous Age", which does for the "All Day and All of the Night" riff what "Start" did for "Taxman". A female vocalist joined him for "Study in Blue" – presumably his wife Hannah, who sang on the album version. Elsewhere there were hints of Damon Albarn's soft vocals and an elegantly controlled dub excursion that was more Clash than Jam.
After Sonik Kicks Weller disappeared to slip into something more comfortable, a pair of slacks and black top, for an acoustic section. The crowd went positively bananas when he kicked off with "English Rose" from 1978's All Mod Cons. Hopes were raised of more Jam tracks only for them to be dashed as Weller worked through some of his more recent gentle ballads, such as the Tamla-tinged "No Tears to Cry". His voice was in pretty soulful shape, but this unplugged experiment was an undeniably odd interlude. When his four band members, including Ocean Colour Scene's frontman Steve Cradock, joined him on stools they resembled a boy band on their umpteenth reunion tour.
Eventually he announced that "the night is young" and it turned out that the fun was just starting as he decided to let rip. No Jam, no Style Council, but I'm not sure if anyone cared as he cherry-picked some of the juiciest fruits from his lengthy solo career. "From the Floorboards Up" laid bare his love of Dr Feelgood, with Weller jerking around the stage like a mullet-haired Wilko Johnson. "Stanley Road", probably the starting point for his latest creative rebirth, motored out of the blocks before "Foot of the Mountain" went all psychedelic. Weller might look every inch the ageing mod, but his music has regularly gone way beyond the punky R&B template.
Where Weller might have been forgiven for winding down towards the end of his two-hour set, he chose to crank up the energy level higher than ever on the home stretch. "Changing Man" received the largest roar of the night, "Wake Up the Nation" saw the singer stomping as if it was going out of style, while "Fast Car/Slow Traffic" was a clatteringly angular mix of punk and Bowieisms. There was no stopping him now as he gave his guitar a veritable thrashing on his collaboration with Noel Gallagher, "Echoes Around the Sun", which proved that when he does work with younger musicians they clearly raise their game. And then it was time for "Whirlpool's End" before disappearing, presumably to fold his suit neatly away. A thrilling gig to make anyone’s hair stand on end, not just Paul Weller’s.
From The Evening Standard
By: David Smyth
“I’m just not a particularly nostalgic person,” said Paul Weller recently. At the first of five nights in Camden, his version of the track-by-track album replica gigs that fill every venue’s schedule these days was to play all of his latest, Sonik Kicks, the day before its release.
In his three-piece suit, complete with handkerchief, he was businesslike to begin — no chatter, all new songs. Thankfully, this was no stubborn veteran withholding the hits but a man gambolling around in his latest purple patch. His third album in less than four years is every bit as varied and exciting as its two recent predecessors.
Green was a bold opener, a squalling piece of psychedelia with barked vocals, before the breezy, upbeat The Attic showed that he still knows his way around a great tune.
He switched instruments (playing piano and melodica as well as guitar) and styles at speed, mimicking Blur’s Britpop-era chirpiness on That Dangerous Age and When Your Garden’s Overgrown, conjuring a genuine Sixties freakout on Drifters and turning to classic soul on the blissful finale, Be Happy Children.
Most unlikely was Study In Blue, six minutes of dub reggae performed as a duet with his wife of 17 months and the mother of his new twin sons, Hannah Weller. It was largely impressive stuff, though unfamiliarity from the audience inevitably led to a fairly flat atmosphere at first. The strict set list generated respect, not rapture.
Using an interval to slip into a black T-shirt, he returned for a lengthy acoustic interlude that included The Jam’s English Rose but that was as backward-looking as things got. Aim High and No Tears To Cry, both from 2010’s Mercury-nominated album, Wake Up The Nation, benefited from the makeover.
Stanley Road and The Changingman were dusted off from the mid-Nineties as he went electric again, yet the focus remained on more recent fare such as 22 Dreams and From the Floorboards Up.
After four more nights of this, perhaps all of these songs from this constant creator will feel like old friends.
Set List Courtesy Of Paul aka Pretty Green! Cheers!
Set List Courtesy Of Paul aka Pretty Green! Cheers!
From The Quietus
By: Julian Marszalek
"Well, I didn't hate it," sighs the fella next to The Quietus at the end of Paul Weller's first set at The Roundhouse. This is the inaugural night of The Modfather's five-night stand at the legendary North London venue, and the Woking wonder has elected to play his new solo album, the splendid Sonik Kicks, in its entirety almost 12 hours before it hits the shelves.
Following on from his creative rebirth with 22 Dreams and the award-winning and Mercury Prize-nominated Wake Up The Nation, Weller has once again refused to look back at former glories and has followed his muse into uncharted waters. For his new album, this means a flirtation with motorik beats, psychedelia, sequencers and a Technicolor approach to his work. The end result is another in a line of career highlights.
Not that any of this should be a surprise to anyone, let alone the legions of fans who have slavishly followed him since The Jam first appeared in the wake of punk's first flush of life. This, after all, was the man who broke that trio up at the height of their fame and continued to confound expectations by joining with Merton Mick for their singular adventures with The Style Council.
In the upstairs bar, less charitable voices are making themselves heard.
"Shocking!" exclaims one aging fan to his equally apoplectic friend. "Fucking shocking! I saw him at the Albert Hall in the 80s and if he'd have done that then we'd have taken the fucking stage!"
What could be the problem, wonders the Quietus? Could it be Weller's desire to seek out more experimental avenues and take his audience with him?
"That wasn't experimental," comes the reply. "That was fucking shit!"
Counter opinions are being expressed. "I'm happy for him to take me somewhere new," explains a supporter of Weller's as waits for his beer. "If I wanted to hear just the old stuff then I'd stay at home and listen to the albums."
Just 45 minutes earlier, a beaming Paul Weller bounds on to the stage. From the moment he straps his guitar on the and the squelching sequencers usher in the squalling psychedelia of 'Green', it's damn obvious that this is where Weller's head is at. So why the negative and shocked reaction from certain quarters? Speaking to the Quietus two years ago, Weller said, "I've opened up to so many forms of music, and I think the older I've got the more open-minded I've become, and I just wanna hear everything these days, because there's so little time, and I just wanna hear as much as I can really."
Weller's newly expanded musical horizons are much in evidence, and song titles such as 'Kling I Klang' drop huge hints as to what he's been listening to and soaking up. Elsewhere, Weller's discovery of Neu! is displayed on the propulsive Dragonfly and deliciously hypnotic Around The Lake, but perhaps the biggest surprise comes in the form of 'Study In Blue'. Joined by his wife, Hannah, on vocals, the track is, to these ears, the least satisfying moment on Sonik Kicks but here its move into an extended reggae work out is both convincing and compelling.
Any dissenters thinking they're in for an easy ride during the second of tonight's two sets find themselves equally challenged. The Jam's 'English Rose' opens the acoustic section to huge roars but this proves to be something of a red herring, as Weller steers the rest of his set in favour of material weighted towards his most recent releases. As the final notes of 'Black River' fade away, a voice yells out from the rear, "Bring on the old school!" and despite cheers of agreement from blokes whose faces reveal expressions of betrayal, Weller gleefully dives in to 'Moonshine', 'Fast Car/Slow Traffic' and 'Wake Up The Nation'.
Tellingly, 'The Changingman' receives the biggest cheer of the night though Weller singing, "Numbed by the effect / Aware of the muse / Too in touch with myself / I light the fuse" is clearly lost on those refusing to accept the singer's embrace of the here and now.
A few people start to head for the exit signs before the end of the gig, but one suspects that for them the climax of 'Whirlpool's End' would have been too little too late. Ultimately, that's their loss, and it's hard to fathom why the past is held in such thrall when the present offers such delights. It could well be that a small minority of tonight's crowd are simply too scared of letting go of the past for fear of acknowledging the present. Not so their hero, an artist only too aware of the passing of time and the inevitability of mortality. Unlike so many artists of his generation who are content to be stuck in some kind of musical variant of Groundhog Day, Paul Weller remains an inquisitive and curious musician. For this alone he should be applauded. But the fact that he's creating some of the best music of his career and refusing complacency from his audience marks Weller out as talent still worth watching. Where he goes to next is anybody's guess but whatever it'll be, it won't be lazy.
From The Guardian
By: Maddy Costa
There's a splendid moment, 20 minutes into his set, when Paul Weller looks surprised at himself, even a bit coy. It comes at the beginning of Study in Blue, a duet with his wife Hannah, when he picks up a melodica and plays a few tentative notes. Since no man can maintain his dapper mien while blowing down a plastic tube into a toy piano, he discards it at the end of the song. But not before Study in Blue ends with several minutes of dub: not heavy dub, but a luminous, luxuriant dub-lite, in which Weller's improbably beautiful melodica swirls over a weightless bassline and pattering drums.
Weller, in his impeccable suit and obstinately dreadful haircut (spiky on top, collar-bothering below; a mullet trimmed into a Vespa-ready helmet), is a mod preserved in aspic. For years that translated as stuck in his ways, but since 2008 he has been redefining himself, with a string of albums devoted to musical experimentation. He's so excited about the new one, Sonik Kicks, that he plays it in full, at a ferocious, full-throttle pace. There is time to address the audience just once, at the beginning of the Kinksy That Dangerous Age, when he laughs off its fumbled start with the words: "First-night nerves." As if.
The trouble with this focused approach is that the album's weaker moments are exposed: Paperchase plods mulishly, while Dragonfly, for which Weller plays keyboards, squelches along without finding its shape. The advantage is that it hammers home what a shape-shifting album this is, bounding from the squall of Green and the relentless pounding of Kling I Klang to the jittery strings of spaced-out instrumental Sleep of the Serene and the eerily vibrant psychedelic drone of Drifters.
You appreciate that variety all the more after the interval, when Weller returns for two conventionally shaped sets, one acoustic, one electric. His 17-song selection is stripped of crowd-pleasing nostalgia: he opens with the Jam's softly sentimental English Rose, but from then on sticks almost exclusively to Sonik Kicks' immediate predecessors 22 Dreams and Wake Up the Nation, and 1995's Stanley Road. Songs in the acoustic set are pared back to similitude: only the gurgling Black River retains its weirdness. Whereas the electric set – the curious, Broadway-musical pianisms of Stanley Road itself aside – is huge and meaty, stomping and seething. He hits a jagged peak with Fast Car/Slow Traffic, closes with an explosive Whirlpool's End, and that's it. Off he strides, no encore, no looking back.
From The Telegraph
By: James Lachno
WITH a new album to promote, an army of cultish “Modfather” devotees looking on, and several more headline shows at North London’s Roundhouse to come, this should have been a triumphant night for Paul Weller. But even the middle-aged mods wearing replica feather cuts and two-tone brogues may have left disappointed after a disjointed set from the former Jam and Style Council man, which offered little to justify the praise heaped on his many solo outings.
The five-night Roundhouse run was billed as a showcase for Weller’s 11th studio album, Sonik Kicks, released this week. On the opening night, he first performed the new album in full, before delving into his back catalogue for abridged acoustic and electric mini‑sets.
This sequence started brightly. Weller, as dedicated a follower of fashion as ever, looked trim for his 53 years in a typically sharp suit and tie, and the punchy, spry songs from Sonik Kicks were given a boisterous workout. His considered, occasionally throaty, blue-eyed soul bellow was a commanding focal point amid the busy guitars, keyboards and strings.
Meanwhile, some of the new songs sounded excellent: the staccato chords, instant hooks and prickly social observations of single That Dangerous Age (which had limped into the charts at the undeservedly low position of number 66 earlier that evening), for instance, recalled Weller’s golden years in the early Eighties.
After a short interval, Weller re-appeared wearing a plain button-up T-shirt, and with his acoustic guitar in hand. When the Jam favourite English Rose inspired a mass singalong, hopes were high for a rousing second half. But what followed was uninspiring, as a handful of low-key singles such as All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You) were re-imagined as soggy acoustic ballads.
Fans shuffled uneasily – surely the plugged-in, full-band finale would raise the standard? At first, the renewed vigour made a pleasant change. Yet soon the songs blended into one long, muddy, pounding rhythm-and-blues dirge. Weller’s stage chat – almost totally nonexistent – failed to break up the wearying flow, and while Changing Man and Wake Up the Nation offered some hummable respite, the lack of recognisable hits at the disposal of a man who has had nine top-five albums (including three number ones) was bewildering.
When Weller didn’t appear for an encore, there was a smattering of boos, but no great heaving groan of discontent – the night’s “sonic kicks” had long since petered out.