There's a reason Paul Weller was dubbed 'The Modfather' of British pop. From his early days with the short sharp punk attacks of The Jam to leading the way for "Britpop" in the early 1990s to his modern soulful experimentation, Weller has been at the vanguard of British music, combining his idols The Who and the Kinks with his own fierce music and bittersweet passions.
He's never been huge in the US, but Weller's albums consistently top the charts in England; the whole country and its thick, living history and class culture are his muse. For my money, Weller's as vital as he's ever been -- this year's album "Wake Up The Nation" is a barnstormer, one of the best of 2010.
He made it to Auckland this weekend in a series of three sold-out shows at the Powerstation, his first appearance in New Zealand ever. From the moment he took the stage, clad in black and chatty in his thick accent, Weller did a fine job surveying his 40-year-career, mixing the old Jam and Style Council classics with his superb more recent work. (This guy apparently thinks Weller should have played nothing but Jam tracks, but I disagree -- the man's got a rich and diverse catalog, why not explore it?)
I actually really discovered Weller with his solo albums, particularly 1993's rich, soulful "Wild Wood," and only came to the Jam belatedly some time later. As he's aged Weller has weathered and seasoned like a fine old oak, into a peerless singer/songwriter who evokes a timeless mood tinged with that old punk anger. The best comparison I can make is to another old angry young punk, Elvis Costello, who's lasted far longer than anyone might have guessed by constantly changing his approach.
Weller showed off all his sides during the show -- highlights included a storming, psychedelic jam through "Pieces of Dreams" from his latest album, or the sweeping, eclectic "Trees," which crams together several different songs into one powerful mix. The "Stanley Road" classic torch song "You Do Something To Me" got a loving take, while "Echoes Round The Sun" (written with Noel Gallagher) was a feedback-laced gem. The old Jam classics could be counted upon to get the crowd raving, such as a bouncy bass-driven "Start!" (smashed together with the brand new "Fast Car/Slow Traffic" in a sterling medley) and a massive fist-pumping singalong take on "Eton Rifles," or The Style Council's poppy "Shout To The Top."
Over nearly two hours and two encores, Weller swerved from piano-led balladry to crunchy guitar anthems without missing a beat. It's good to see The Modfather is still full of plenty of steam and I can't wait to see what he does next.