Roundhouse first night: Times review (Thanx to Splinters)

There was a time, seven or eight years ago, when Paul Weller appeared to be cruising towards the comfort zone reserved for the middle-aged rock star. He had recorded an album of cover versions and his shows were heavily upholstered with hits from the past. The opening night of his residency at the Roundhouse could not have been more of a contrast. Rigorous, forward-looking and without a hint of complacency, Weller, 53, began with a performance, in its entirety, of his brilliant new album, Sonik Kicks, released this week. In a three-piece suit and with his tinsel-top coiffure arranged just-so, the ageing dandy whipped straight into the psychedelic chant ofGreen. With a five-man band, including two percussionists, providing a dense, briskly-syncopated backdrop, Weller barked out the harsh lyric of Kling I Klang with an unforgiving jut of the chin. The mood changed dramatically for Sleep of the Serene and By The Waters, during which a small string section weighed in with a symphonic passage that recalled the psychedelic heyday of the Beatles. The wondrous thing about Weller is how his songs have got more edgy and adventurous the longer he’s gone on. He can’t seem to write hits any more but the current single, That Dangerous Age, is a brilliant evocation of middle-aged angst — albeit conveyed as a third person narrative just in case you thought such problems had anything to do with the singer himself. Weller has never been a man to waste time on pleasantries. “The night is young,” he
ventured at one point. But even when his wife, Hannah Andrews, joined him on stage to sing Study in Blue, there were no introductions, let alone any hint of sentimentality. Rather, there was a nagging sense of urgency in his performance, a restless impatience to get on with the next thing, which he retains from his punk roots. There are no audience sing-alongs or jollying-up moments during a Weller gig — and quite right too. Even the interval was a brusque five minutes after which Weller reappeared with an acoustic guitar and re-started the show with English Rose, the only Jam song of the night, and really the only point at which he played the nostalgia card.
The acoustic stretch which followed included a poignantly reworked version of Out Of The Sinking and an emollient Devotion. The band then returned to electric guitars for a string of older songs including Stanley Road, Foot of the Mountain and The Changing man. The show ended as abruptly as it had begun, with rampaging versions of Echoes Round the Sun and Whirlpool’s End. There were no encores and no prisoners taken.

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