After spending most of the last three years grounded by coronavirus restrictions, Paul Weller was on swashbuckling form as he completed a three-night run of London shows with a clobbering, ear-bashing, two-hour musical marathon in Brixton. As two drummers pummeled away behind a wall of clanging guitars, this was an impressively boisterous performance, albeit a little short on subtlety and variety at times.
Weller has kept busy during the pandemic, releasing two chart-topping studio albums, a superb live collection of old tunes clothed in new orchestral arrangements, and a quartet of experimental soundscapes. His musical horizons have certainly broadened over the past decade. Sadly, little of this adventurous eclecticism was evident during his Brixton show, which mostly conformed to the 63-year-old Modfather’s default setting of retro-leaning, analogue-era blues-rock. In Weller World, pop has barely evolved since the Beatles played their farewell rooftop concert.
Still a dapper and dynamic presence onstage, Weller struck a careful balance between new and old material, saving most of his much-loved early hits for later in the set. “Here’s a lovely song from the last century,” he nodded before blasting through the vintage Style Council track Headstart for Happiness. That was followed by the beefy bossa nova of Have You Ever Had It Blue, the voluptuous It’s a Very Deep Sea and the eternally joyous, uplifting Shout To The Top!
Jam classics were even more thinly deployed, just three in total: the heavily Beatles-influenced Start!, the heart-tugging working-class childhood memoir That’s Entertainment, and a rollicking A Town Called Malice. Each one earned a predictably rapturous sing-along reception, which only reinforced just how stingy Weller was to include so few in a 27-song set. His steadfast refusal to become a greatest-hits heritage act is admirable, but it meant too much of this show consisted of the pedestrian, blokey, second-division fare that has shaped much of his solo career. Burly Britpop bruisers such as White Sky or Woo Sé Mama sounded robust enough, but they hardly rank among Weller’s finest work.
That said, the recent solo material did contain some gems. Weller perched at his piano to perform the catchy soul-pop duet Shades of Blue with the song’s co-writer, his 30-year-old daughter Leah, who easily matched him in the talented tonsils stakes. Fat Pop had a pleasingly wonky, angular, robo-funk groove while Rockets was a true show-stopper, a wistfully soaring ballad that sounded like Damon Albarn channeling David Bowie. After more than 40 years of fame and acclaim, Weller needs no lessons in crowd-pleasing populism. But he could still afford to step outside his conservative comfort zone more often, challenging both himself and his audience.