With Paul Weller having never previously performed in New Zealand with either The Jam or The Style Council, or indeed while wearing his solo hat in more recent times, it was no great surprise that Weller was able to sell out three consecutive nights at Auckland’s Powerstation venue (capacity approx 1000) within hours of each gig being announced.
Despite many of my casual friends or work colleagues responding with a baffled “who?” when I informed them that I was attending the middle concert of the three, Weller remains a big draw in this part of the world, particularly when it comes to nostalgic middle-aged expat Brits looking to capture a glimpse of the man many consider to be a genuine legend back in his (and their) home country. Suffice to say that “Kiwi” accents were rather conspicuous by their scarcity on the night under review.
The Powerstation is certainly a great venue – large enough to accommodate a good sized crowd yet small enough to feel relatively intimate. Add to that decent acoustics, a genuine “club” feel with separate zones, home comforts such as plush sofas/chairs, not to mention easy access to multiple bars, air conditioning (!) and well … we were all set for a top night once a good spot on the mezzanine floor had been secured for our viewing pleasure. It was great to see the Powerstation almost full and buzzing, but by no means over-crowded, by the time the support act (The Conversations? - quirky Pop), started its thankfully-not-too-prolonged set.
Leading up to the gig there had been much speculation about which “version” of Weller we would see on the night. Would we get the beloved “Jam classics”? And what about those old faves from the Style Council years? Or would greater importance be placed on his most recent solo work?
The answer, of course, was a mixture of all three eras, but with emphasis weighted to the latter; a few older Jam tunes for the nostalgia nuts, a very memorable ‘Shout To The Top’ as the token nod to the Style Council, and a balanced journey through some of the very best material from his solo years, with his latest album, Wake Up The Nation (2010), taking pride of place.
The thing about Paul Weller, at age 52, is that he isn’t quite yet ready for the nostalgia circuit. He is a living breathing artist continually releasing new work at regular intervals. He is evolving all the time as a songwriter and performer. This was never going to be like, say, The Specials (to pluck a band from the Jam-era) visiting Auckland in 2009. I attended that gig on the basis that the band had reformed specifically for a series of concerts celebrating its illustrious past. There had been no new Specials material for something close to three decades, so I went to that gig knowing exactly what I was going to get (and loving the band all the more because of it). So those expecting Weller to populate his set-list with tracks from a bygone era were always going to be disappointed.
While I’m not a huge fan of Wake Up The Nation, songs from his latest album dominated the early part of the set and hearing them in a live context enabled me to connect with them in ways I hadn’t been able to when listening to the album. ‘As Tears Go By’, ‘Pieces Of A Dream’, ‘Fast Car/Slow Traffic’, and the title track itself all provided highlights on the night and Weller seemed especially keen to challenge those in the crowd who hadn’t made the effort to buy the album (or its predecessor, 22 Dreams) … in fact he seemed a little obsessed with poor recent album sales in this part of the world as he mentioned this on more than one occasion.
We also got other solo career gems such as ‘The Changingman’ and ‘Broken Stones’ (off Stanley Road), and while I was a bit personally disappointed that tracks from his ‘Wild Wood’ album were overlooked, I couldn’t have any complaint about his choice of material from the Jam era – ‘That’s Entertainment’ being given an riotous airing early on, while versions of ‘Pretty Green’ and ‘Start’ counted among the night’s best. And although there would doubtlessly have been a few grumbles that ‘Going Underground’ didn’t get an outing, there can be few better encore finales (the second of two) than ‘A Town Called Malice’, which concluded a thoroughly professional and enjoyable gig.
Weller look relaxed and in control throughout – dominating the stage like the veteran he undeniably is, smoking, chatting, regularly switching guitars – depending on what song came next – and spending a portion of the night behind one of several keyboards at his disposal. It was notable that longtime sidekick Steve Craddock and other members of the band got a warm introduction and an acknowledgement from the crowd near the end, with Weller happy to allow his youthful drummer the indulgence of a short drum solo in response to the crowd’s hearty “happy birthday” chorus as he celebrated his special day.
More generally it was a special night for all in attendance. I read a review of the first night suggesting that the crowd at that particular gig was more akin to a football crowd than your usual Rock audience and it is actually difficult to disagree with that assessment (a house load of Brits? – what can you do?), albeit a very polite and less hooligan-like mob, but most left the venue with large smiles and surely the sense that they’d backed the winning team after witnessing a classic match. Cup Finals don’t come along very often, after all.