By John Curley
Having a career spanning four decades can present an issue for an artist such as Paul Weller when they are crafting a set list for a live performance. That problem being how to balance the set between old favorites that the fans are always clamoring to hear and the new, less familiar material from the latest album. There’s no easy way to do it and please everyone. And an artist like Weller, an avowed modernist that the British music press have nicknamed The Modfather, has never been one to rest on his laurels. He is, after all, the one that decided to break up one of Britain’s most revered bands, The Jam, at the height of their popularity to shift the direction of his career. It can be argued that Weller’s determination to do it his way can sometimes work against him. Weller and his band delivered a terrific performance on Friday, June 12th at Terminal 5 in New York City. But the audience seemed oddly subdued, listening intently to the new material and bopping in time with the music but not really giving an overly enthusiastic response to what Weller and his band were doing onstage. It was a very hot and muggy day in New York City, so that may have had something to do with the crowd’s seeming indifference. But it appeared that they were waiting for a moment to erupt, and that time didn’t really come until Weller performed The Jam’s “Town Called Malice” as the third and final encore of the evening. The crowd finally seemed to get what it wanted, and a large portion of the audience sang along loudly and danced to the song. But that is not to say that Weller and his band didn’t put on a fine performance. They more than delivered live, as they always do.
Weller opened the show with a terrific version of the heavy “White Sky” from the new album Saturns Pattern (Weller’s 12th solo album). He followed that up with the jaunty “Come On/Let’s Go,” which got a decent reaction from the crowd. But the energy seemed to go out of the room during the performances of “I’m Where I Should Be,” “When Your Garden’s Overgrown,” and “The Olde Original.” An extended performance of “Into Tomorrow” brought the show back to life, and featured stellar percussion by the duo of Steve Pilgrim and Ben Gordelier. This was followed by a great version of the new album’s title track that featured Weller on keyboards.
Bassist Andy Lewis steeped up to the mic to introduce the song “Going My Way,” telling the crowd that it is his favorite song from the new album. The next song, “Above The Clouds,” really seemed to bring the crowd to life for the first time in the concert. Weller kept the energy up with “Long Time,” a new track that sounds like a great lost tune by The Jam. Seguing right into the stonking “From The Floorboards Up,” the Weller solo tune that most sounds like a Jam song, was a smart move as it raised the energy level of the crowd even higher.
“Friday Street” and “Porcelain Gods” both sounded very heavy, with the drums and bass on “Porcelain Gods” absolutely pounding to drive the song home. And when Weller sat at the keyboard and played the first few instantly recognizable notes of “You Do Something To Me,” the crowd cheered with the biggest reaction of the night to that point. But, for whatever reason, the malaise in the crowd seemed to return throughout terrific, hard-charging versions of “Peacock Suit,” “7 & 3 Is The Strikers Name,” and “Whirlpools’ End.” The version of “Whirlpools’ End” that closed out the main set was absolutely incendiary, which made the listlessness of the crowd quite baffling.
Weller deviated from the printed set list by dropping “Out Of The Sinking,” which was supposed to be the opening song of the first encore and replacing it with the more popular “Broken Stones.” It may have been done as a reaction to the malaise in the crowd. Whatever Weller’s reason was for doing that, it was a good move as it received a nice hand with many in the house singling along to the song. And Weller changed the set list again by opening the second encore with “Picking Up Sticks” instead of “Foot Of The Mountain.” This, too, was a good choice, as the crowd seemed to enjoy the performance, which featured a drum solo by Steve Pilgrim in the middle of the song. When Weller followed that up with an absolutely slamming version of “The Changingman,” the crowd reacted with a full-throated roar. But, as stated above, the biggest hand of the night went to the third encore, “Town Called Malice.”
It did seem that the crowd was a bit disappointed that Weller only performed one song by The Jam and no material by The Style Council during the concert. Perhaps Weller will make note of that and be a bit more accommodating when it comes to playing older, more familiar songs on future tours. Those songs were, after all, the building blocks upon which Weller forged his 40-year career in the music business. In addition, Weller may have noticed that his Terminal 5 show had a considerably smaller crowd than his recent appearances in New York City. There was plenty of room to move around on the floor in front of the stage and the balconies did not seem particularly crowded.
Weller played electric and acoustic guitar and keyboards during the concert. His excellent backing band features his longtime sideman, guitarist Steve Cradock. (Cradock is also a member of Britpop heroes Ocean Colour Scene.) The band also includes bassist Andy Lewis, Steve Pilgrim on drums, Ben Gordelier on percussion, and keyboardist Andy Crofts. (Gordelier and Crofts are also members of the British band The Moons.) Weller and his band were onstage for one hour and 50 minutes. They performed a 19-song main set followed by an additional five songs played during the three encores.
This portion of Weller’s North American tour closes on June 20th with a show in Brooklyn. Weller then returns to his native UK for shows in London’s Hyde Park on the same bill as Johnny Marr and The Who on June 26th and an appearance at the Glastonbury Festival on June 28th. He follows that with some shows in Europe in July. Weller’s North American tour resumes with a show in Vancouver on September 29th.
Opening the show at Terminal 5 was the terrific 28-year-old singer-songwriter Hannah Cohen. Backed by a keyboardist and a drummer, Cohen performed a 30-minute set of ethereal rock. Her sound is often compared to Lana Del Rey, and that came across during her set at Terminal 5. Cohen, a very attractive blonde who has also worked as a model, was clad in a form-fitting, long-sleeved dress. She’s got a very commanding stage presence. The majority of the crowd had not yet arrived when Cohen performed. That’s a shame, because she is an artist to keep your eyes on. Cohen is promoting her new album, Pleasure Boy, on this tour.
Paul Weller’s set list was as follows:
Come On/Let’s Go
I’m Where I Should Be
When Your Garden’s Overgrown
The Olde Original
Going My Way
Above The Clouds
From The Floorboards Up
Brand New Toy
You Do Something To Me
7 & 3 Is The Strikers Name
These City Streets
Picking Up Sticks
Town Called Malice (song by The Jam)