Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Resolute Modfather: Above Nostalgia, Paul Weller Shows Great Songwriting Remains in Style -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Paul Weller
House of Blues, Chicago
October 12, 2017

To be forthright off the bat, and fair to Paul Weller and fans who felt the Modfather and his band were absolutely fantastic for the entirety of Thursday's generous 130-minute show at House of Blues, my focus was--atypically--not 100% on the music.

Sure, I watched and heard every song performed, often sang along and jotted down all 29--except a few I didn't recognize--into my mini-notebook. (Chicago setlist here.)

But on a night when my beloved Chicago Cubs were in a fight for their playoff lives, with Game 5 of the NLDS going down to the last pitch against the Washington Nationals, the combination of free HOB Wi-Fi and my Sony PlayStation Vue membership enabled me to not only check the score, but watch significant portions of the later innings on my phone.

For those who will contend this to be: A) Not the way to best enjoy or judge a concert, B) Rude to the performers onstage and fans around me, and C) Contrary to the codes of conduct at live events that I posted about back in June, I cannot strongly disagree.

But I was sitting nowhere near the stage--having been graciously been granted a seat in the Back Bar section--was able to largely cloak my phone in a recessed countertop in front of me and was repeatedly assured by those nearby that their enjoyment of the concert was not being impacted.

In fact, many others--including HOB personnel--appreciated getting score updates and even watched with me.

And it wasn't like I was ignoring Weller, just keeping an eye on the game while watching the show.

That I didn't forego attending the concert given the deciding game--and would have even if there was no way to see the Cubs while there--bespeaks how much I like his music. (Incidentally, Weller's last Chicago concert, in June 2015, would have coincided with Game 7 of the Stanley Cup had not the Blackhawks clinched in 6, and I wouldn't have missed that show either.)

But I was unable to pass up the ability to watch the Cubs while also enjoying the concert, without seemingly being too much of an overt jackass. Especially as the Cubs wound up winning in about the most nerve wracking way possible, with the Nats seriously threatening to change the outcome in every inning.

Yet while I believe the above candor requisite in writing this review, I don't feel the split focus impaired my appreciation of what Weller & Co. were doing onstage.

In truth, while trying to fairly factor in the situation and perhaps cut a bit of slack, I actually think I may have liked the show a bit less without the Cubs' diversion (and a comfortable seat).

I was certainly glad to be seeing Weller live for the 6th time in the past 14 years, and happy to be joined by my likewise avid concertgoing pal, Paolo, especially in knowing that his affinity for Paul Weller--and his original band, The Jam--has quite a lot to do with my influence.

Because it is mostly standing room only, the House of Blues is a venue I don't frequent, but I was willing to due the relative rarity of Weller playing Chicago.

So I was delighted when the venue honored my request for a seating option. (And must note, more than previously experienced, the complete coolness and kindness of all HOB personnel I encountered, from the bartender/waitress in the restaurant to the security personnel downstairs and in the music hall. If you're reading this: Thank you.)

Hence, less so that had I been laser-focused and/or standing uncomfortably for 3+ hours--including a nice if muted opening set from Lucy Rose--I didn't really mind when Weller's setlist selections were a bit esoteric for my preferences.

It was a great night regardless, including some fantastic music by the ever-stylish Englishman and the five members of his touring band, which features a pair of drummers.

And having seen Weller so many times, and paying attention to his setlists in other locales, I knew this gig would be far from Jam-packed.

This is the 40th anniversary of the release of The Jam's debut album, In The City, and I would surmise that Weller remains quite proud of the work he did with that trio through 1982.

But despite the objections of his bandmates, he broke up the Jam at the height of their popularity--though never big in the U.S., in the UK they rivaled The Clash--and formed the Style Council, which lasted until 1989.

Since 1992, Weller has released several solid, stellar or even superlative solo albums, with many wonderful songs in a variety of styles he has chosen to explore.

Thursday night, Weller and his fine band played several of his older solo gems ("Friday Street," "Out of the Sinking," "From the Floorboards Up," "Into Tomorrow," "You Do Something To Me," "Wild Wood," "Peacock Suit" and "The Changingman") along with three tunes from his latest album, A Kind Revolution and--a bit oddly--six from the one just prior, Saturns Pattern.

A bit more to Paolo's delight than mine, three Style Council chestnuts ("My Ever Changing Moods," "Have You Ever Had It Blue" and "Shout to the Top") were heard but "Start!" was the only representation of The Jam, who remain among my 10 favorite rock artists of all-time even though I didn't learn of them until years after their disbandment.

But this isn't a simplistic, "Play more Jam!" critique, although the gripe is nothing new; my 2015 Weller review is thematically rather similar.

As noted above, Weller--ever-svelte at 59 and in great voice--sounded terrific as he rotated through electric & acoustic guitars and the piano, even once playing a guitar while seated at a keyboard.

Along with those already mentioned, the opening "White Sky," "Long Time," "Going My Way" and "Woo Sé Mama"--the latter a highlight from the new album--brought considerable delight.

I won't whine about any specific songs, but after about an hour things started to bog down (though I didn't mind too much given the excitement occurring at Nationals Park).

And while a 5-song acoustic encore was ever classy--begun with the new "Hopper": "In late night bars / The ghost of Hopper / Paints such melancholy colours / With sullen neon lights"--I know I'm not the only one who felt the Jam's "That's Entertainment" would have fit in wonderfully, while amping things up a bit.

But while it's a song Weller has played at solo shows over the past decade, he eschewed not only it but a closing romp through "Town Called Malice," which has ended things on a delirious note often, including on this U.S. tour.

The argument "Why do you keep seeing him if he doesn't play what you want?" holds some water, and could have also pertained to the late, great Tom Petty, who never mined his catalog as much as I wanted, yet whom I kept paying to see with the Heartbreakers.

In both cases, I love them and the music they did play enough to always remain a fervid fan. Their shows have never merited less than @@@@ or @@@1/2 out of 5, so I'm not saying any were "bad."

And as with Petty, I admire Weller for doing what he wants to, not what I or anyone else wants him to. However wealthy he may be, he could be far more so if he wanted to reunite The Jam, so he truly believes in his vision, and I have to respect that.

But I truly believe that without expecting to turn them into Jam jukebox affairs, his shows would be far more fully pleasing--at least to me; I noted some others raving about the setlist--with just a few more well-placed relics.

And had he pulled out "Going Underground"--my favorite Jam song, seemingly never played solo--I would've thrown my phone, and the Cubs, across the room.

As it was, I clearly wasn't the only one following the game. When the Cubs won, one of the night's loudest cheers erupted. Not that Paul Weller, to his steadfast credit, seemed to notice.

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