They say that if you chop down a tree, you can count the rings on the discarded piece of trunk and that will tell you how old it is, Likewise, if you count the lines on Paul Weller‘s face, his true age will be revealed. There’s a few lines around the eyes there, ones that first appeared after he split The Jam. Another couple on the brow courtesy of those record company people who misunderstood the Style Council’s brave new steps into house music and refused to release the bulk of it. Yet more around his mouth, the product of worrying over a slow-starting solo career. At the last count, PW had 63 such lines etched onto a face that at times resembles a cartographical ordnance survey map. Last night in Glasgow though, the wizened auld Weller looked trim and tanned, a spritely grandad with a 40+ year collection of songs at his fingertips and a two and a half hour slot on the Barrowlands stage in which to breeze through the back catalogue and play like a man half his age.
“Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh, fackin’ yes!” he shouts down the mic by way of introduction, the sound-clash of The Beatles’ retro-futuristic Tomorrow Never Knows still ringing in our ears, clearly as excited to be here as the heaving throng of fey hairs and nae hairs in front of him. “We’re gonna play some noo ones and old ones, so ‘old tight!”
A quick one-two of White Skies and Fat Pop‘s Cosmic Fringes give way to a career-spanning set that’s almost as long as the outgrown lockdown curtains that frame his grinning face; My Ever Changing Moods, Shout To The Top, Peacock Suit, Hung Up, Brand New Start, Sunflower… it’s incessant and breathless, sung perfectly (yet with a gubful of Wrigley’s on every line), played expertly by a 6-piece band that includes Steve Cradock, his now-regular guitar foil, alongside the brass-totin’ Jacko Peake, the go-to guy on the Acid Jazz scene, and The Strypes’ Josh McLorey on stand-in bass duties.
The set ebbs and flows between old ones and new ones, fast ones and slow ones, guitar ones and piano ones. Heck, even the songs themselves ebb and flow with well-rehearsed breakdowns and meandering codas. Above The Clouds is still great white-boy soul; effortless, cool and sounding as if it might have floated in off the grooves of What’s Going On. Wild Wood is pastoral and bluesy, an on-the-one rootsy stomp that prompts mass singalong. Main set closer Into Tomorrow – the grooviest live version he’s played yet, transforms smoothly into the parping That Spiritual Feeling, all military-tight snare, Coltrane-ish sax melodies and noodling bass, before returning and ending as it began.
There’s lots of this. Amongst the give ’em what they wants and give ’em what they needs, there are moments of pure self-indulgence where the song choices allow the guitars to wander, as wide and expansive as Steve Cradock’s white slacks but with requisite clanging echo or pseudo-psychedelic swirl. On the caustic, carbolic Brushed, a violently furious Weller thrashes his guitar like the punk wars never happened, falling into step with a grinning Cradock as they provide some sort of mod-friendly twin axe attack, a mere Telecaster ‘n double denim away from full-on Quo. It’s all very brilliant, and topped off in dramatic, crowd-pleasing fashion.
After a short speech where Weller sings the praises of the Glasgow Apollo and the old guys who’ve been with him from the start, he looks to the younger members in the audience and with a this-is-for-you wink of an eye, he’s into the wham-bam (Jam) of That’s Entertainment and Town Called Malice. A one-two that slays any remaining doubters that Paul Weller is still vital, relevant and one of our greatest-ever songwriters,