The Modfather takes Manhattan

Paul Weller in action May 19 at New York’s Best Buy Theater. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

By John Curley

This year marks Paul Weller’s 35th as a recording artist, with The Jam’s debut album, In The City, having been released in 1977. He is now 53 years old (he turns 54 on May 25th), and still performs with the unbridled ferocity that he showed as a 19 year old in The Jam. Weller, referred to as The Modfather by both fans and critics for his musical and sartorial styles, put that fire and skill on display with his terrific two-hour-plus show at the Best Buy Theater in New York City’s Times Square on Saturday, May 19th. Saturday’s show at the Best Buy Theater marked the conclusion of Weller’s three nights in New York City. He played another show at the Best Buy Theater the previous night as well as a special show at the John Varvatos store in the Bowery on Thursday, May 17th. The John Varvatos store is on the site of CBGB’s, where The Jam performed during their debut American tour in 1977. Weller appeared as the musical guest on the Thursday, May 17th broadcast of NBC-TV’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. (Weller’s performance of The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment” for Fallon’s program can be viewed on the show’s Web site.)

Weller’s show on Saturday night was broken up into three parts. The show kicked off with a performance of the whole of Weller’s new album, which is titled Sonik Kicks. The band took a brief break after the Sonik Kicks portion of the show ended, then returned for separate acoustic and electric sets.

The performance of Sonik Kicks live definitely added something to the songs. The album, which is quite adventurous for an artist of Weller’s age and includes a pretty eclectic mix of songs and sounds, has been getting mixed reactions from Weller’s fans, but the songs really came to life in the concert setting. Weller’s backup band was augmented by a four-piece string section for some of the Sonik Kicks songs, and this element breathed new life into the material. Weller’s wife, Hannah, joined her husband onstage to sing on the Sonik Kicks song “Study In Blue.” Highlights of the Sonik Kicks portion of the show included great performances of “That Dangerous Age” and “Around The Lake.”

The concert really kicked into high gear when Weller and his band returned to the stage after the short break following the Sonik Kicks’ performance for their acoustic set. They were joined again by the string section for some of the acoustic selections. In a nod to the informality of the acoustic set, Weller changed out of the suit that he’d been wearing during the Sonik Kicks portion of the show and returned to the stage in a T-shirt. The acoustic set started off with a spellbinding take on The Jam’s “The Butterfly Collector.” It received a big reaction from the crowd when it ended. The acoustic takes on “All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)” and “You Do Something To Me” also got big cheers from the packed house. The acoustic set was the best-sounding part of the show because, for some reason, there was a lot of distortion in the sound during the electric performances.

The main set closed out with the electric set. “From The Floorbaords Up,” “Wake Up The Nation,” “Foot Of The Mountain,” and “Echoes Round The Sun” all got a stellar live treatment by Weller and the band. But they were saving the best for last. The closing song of the main set, “Whirlpool’s End,” received an absolutely blistering take by Weller and crew that left the crowd, many of them already hoarse from singing along during much of the show, roaring with approval.

Following the incendiary performance of “Whirlpool’s End,” the encore almost seemed an afterthought. But it did include good takes on “Into Tomorrow,” “The Changingman,” and the old Jam warhorse “Town Called Malice.” The crowd was hoping that Weller and company would return to do The Jam’s “In The City” and “Art School” as they had done at Friday night’s show, but it was not to be.

Weller’s backing band includes longtime sideman Steve Cradock (who also plays with the UK band Ocean Colour Scene) on guitar as well as Andy Lewis on bass, Steve Pilgrim on drums, and Andy Crofts on keyboards. There was also a percussionist in addition to the four-piece string section.

The all-female quartet The Desert Sharks opened the show. They feature two guitarists, a drummer, and a lead vocalist who doubles as the bassist. Their 25-minute set consisted of spirited, if instantly forgettable, rock tunes. Still, they received a nice hand from the crowd.

The setlist for Paul Weller’s performance at the Best Buy Theater in New York City on Saturday, May 19th was as follows:

Sonik Kicks set:
Green
The Attic
Kling I Klang
Sleep Of The Serene
By The Waters
That Dangerous Age
Study In Blue
Dragonfly
When Your Garden’s Overgrown
Around The Lake
Twilight
Drifters
Paperchase
Be Happy Children

Acoustic set:
The Butterfly Collector
Out Of The Sinking
Aim High
No Tears To Cry
All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)
You Do Something To Me
Devotion

Electric set:
Moonshine
From The Floorboards Up
22 Dreams
Stanley Road
Foot Of The Mountain
Wake Up The Nation
Fast Car/Slow Traffic
Echoes Round The Sun
Whirlpool’s End

Encore:
Pieces Of A Dream
Into Tomorrow
The Changingman
Town Called Malice

Paul Weller and his excellent backing band performed an outstanding show on the second of two nights at the Best Buy Theater in New York City’s Times Square on Saturday, May 19th.

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