Thursday, June 18, 2015

That's Entertainment, If Not Jam-Packed: Paul Weller Focuses Both Admirably and Obstinately on the Here and Now -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Paul Weller 
w/ opening act Hannah Cohen
The Vic Theatre
June 17, 2015

I mean what I'm about to say--about a show I liked much more than not--respectfully, appreciatively, judiciously and even constructively, rather than merely as a kvetch whining about wanting to hear "the old songs."

Now 57, Paul Weller has been writing, singing and recording terrific tunes since his teens, when he formed The Jam, who describes as "the most popular band to emerge from the initial wave of British punk rock in 1977."

In other words, at their peak, in the UK, the Jam were bigger than the Sex Pistols, Clash, Police or anyone else on the nascent punk/new wave scene, even though they never made much of a dent in America and I didn't learn of--and come to love--them until years after their 1982 breakup.

At the peak of their popularity, when he was just 24, Weller pulled the plug on the Jam--reportedly much to the shock and chagrin of bandmates Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler--because he wanted to move in new musical directions he didn't believe the trio could embrace.

He then formed the Style Council, had some more hits and a bit more notice in the U.S., and has enjoyed a rather prolific solo career since 1990.

Though he certainly could make a mint from just a few UK festival shows if he were ever inclined to reunite the Jam, in every interview I've read or seen, Weller has steadfastly, often acerbically, scoffed at the notion of reprising his past.

What makes Weller's insistence on always moving forward all the more appreciable is that he continues to prolifically create stellar music.

That 2015's strong Saturns Pattern continues an estimable string of good-to-great solo albums every 2-or-3 years since 1992 is all the more impressive for the new sonic directions Weller charts, reiterating the artistic exploration he brings to each release.

So although I would unabashedly revel in a Jam reunion, and was thrilled a few weeks ago just by a random opening act covering their first single, "In the City," I assure you I didn't buy tickets back in February expecting--or even overly desiring--Paul Weller's concert Wednesday at the Vic to be laden with Jam gems.

Having seen him in 2003, 2005, 2008 and last year at Riot Fest, I knew sprinklings of his pre-solo past were sparse, but had heard him do such great Jam songs as "That's Entertainment," "The Eton Rifles," "In the Crowd," "Start" and "Town Called Malice."

Weller's 45-minute set at Riot Fest last September was all-too-brief, but remarkable for how well eight solo tunes and the Style Council's "My Ever Changing Moods" sounded before the set ended with the last two songs cited just above.

And while I won't apologize for loving his Jam material by-and-large more than the solo stuff--Weller is a prime example of my Rock 'n Roll Pauls pseudo thesis--my regard for his latter day artistry is such that despite learning via recent, largely static setlists that I would be apt to hear just one Jam song on Wednesday, I was still leaning toward attending even if it meant missing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. (See my last post about the Blackhawks' victory in 6 games.)

I'm glad I wasn't forced to make that choice, and was thrilled to get to the Vic early enough to get comfortable, close-up balcony seats with my friend Dave (pinch-hitting for my under-the-weather friend Paolo).

Unlike Dave, I knew several of Weller's past solo albums and hits--in the UK, anyway--and had Spotifamiliarized myself pretty thoroughly with Saturns Pattern and most other recently setlisted songs.

Yet Dave concurred that the ever-dapper singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist and his five backing musicians sounded excellent from the get-go, even with 8 of the first 11 songs being from the new album or 2012's Sonik Kicks, along with an unfamiliar one called "The Olde Original," whose origins I couldn't ascertain.

"White Sky," "Long Time," "Going My Way" and "The Attic" sounded especially superb among the swath of recent material, and I loved hearing the wonderfully Jamish "Come On/Let's Go" and "From the Floorboards Up" from  2005's As Is Now.

Weller also reached back into the '90s rather powerfully for "Into Tomorrow," "Friday Street," "The Changingman," the great piano-based love song, "You Do Something to Me" and a gentler-than-the-original take on "Out of the Sinking."

So to be clear, nothing I heard on Wednesday night sounded subpar, and much was terrific.

Augmented by an opening set by the striking Hannah Cohen, whose somewhat hushed songs reminded of Lana Del Rey, Paul Weller delivered a solid, often impressive 100-minute performance that Dave also earmarked as meriting @@@@ (out of 5).

And believe me, though I've now heard him do it several times, and had noted it as a regular show closer on this brief American tour, I was ecstatic when--following a prolonged second encore break--Weller and his band came back to jam on "Town Called Malice." (See video below)

So I really don't mean to sound like a baby when I bemoan the fact that those of us who revere the Jam--or the Style Council for that matter, though I don't nearly as much--weren't thrown a few more crumbs.

But with redundant appreciation for the creative force Paul Weller remains today, I don't think I'm the only one who ponied up $50 expecting a few more blasts from his most glorious past. And though I didn't know his planned playlist until after I got my ticket--but still would have bought one if I did--my point isn't simply to bitch about what I wanted to hear but didn't.

As it was, the concert was one I enjoyed and appreciated, but with a few more Jam classics--especially ones he never seems to touch, like "Going Underground," "To Be Someone," "It's Too Bad," "Pretty Green," etc.--I likely would have been exhilarated.

With a relatively middling tune like "Brand New Toy"--which Weller mentioned he had recorded as a Record Store Day single a few years back--and a few other forgettable mid-tempo numbers played, but "That's Entertainment," "When You're Young" or even the Jam's cover of the Kinks' "David Watts" eschewed, the show felt a bit boilerplate and Weller stubbornly miserly.

Certainly, it's his right to play what he wants, and I genuinely like his ongoing oeuvre enough not to need an against-his-nature all out nostalgia fest.

But not only would the concert have been considerably better, IMHO, for balancing the best of Paul Weller, past and present--and not only does he profit from and occasionally otherwise promote continual Jam compilation releases--for all that one may admire his ever-ambitious, contemporary artistic integrity, the truth is that back catalog excursions from solo acts associated with great bands of yore are pretty much par for the course.

And dare I say, without putting too mercenary a spin on it, this only seems fair.

David Byrne, Paul Simon, Sting, Ray Davies, Lindsey Buckingham, Slash, Johnny Marr, Paul Westerberg, Bob Mould, Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, John Fogerty, Noel Gallagher, Steve Winwood, Roger McGuinn and Brian Wilson are all artists I've seen touring on substantive, often stellar solo albums/catalogs and/or with new collaborators.

Yet understanding that many fans have come to see them in part due to the bands with whom they made their first-known and typically most cherished music, all have given the people what they want to a much greater extent than Weller--even on past tours, but especially now.

And the concerts have invariably been better--or at least more personally satisfying--for it. (Heck, I've even thought Peter Gabriel would do well to trot out an old Genesis gem, not just to stun people, but to remind of the breadth of his brilliance.)

So take this for what it's worth, and what I mean it to be:

Admiration and applause for a treasured artist and enjoyable, entertaining concert, with honest, heartfelt, holistic--and sure, perhaps selfish--wishes that it would've been just a bit more of a Jam-packed affair.


"Town Called Malice":

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