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March 20, 2012 5:17 pm
There’s a song on Paul Weller’s new album called “That Dangerous Age” about middle-aged desperation to recapture one’s youth. Weller, 53, has form in this department: his new wife is 27 years younger than him. But the “dangerous age” has a musical dimension too. The middle years are tricky for rockers to negotiate. It’s a time when they fall prey to indecorous attempts to appear relevant, like David Bowie, who now seems to have given up making music, or when they turn into sedate establishment figures, like Eric Clapton.
Not long ago Weller appeared to be heading down the Clapton route, settling into a comfortable role as dad-rock guru to the Noel Gallagher generation of Britpop bores. But 2008’s bold, sprawling album 22 Dreams kick-started a remarkable resurgence. Now comes fresh evidence of Weller’s Indian summer, Sonik Kicks , which he debuted by playing in full on the day of its release.
The show opened with Weller centre stage in the immaculate suit he wears on the cover of Sonik Kicks, a handkerchief standing to attention in breast pocket, his hair an ashy-blonde feather cut, guitar slung around his waist. The look was the Modfather redux – but the music painted a more nuanced portrait.
Two drummers gave the songs drive while psychedelic effects added rich textures, led by Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Cradock on guitar. A string section (all young women, as string sections are obliged to be at rock concerts) played jaunty pizzicato melodies. Weller’s vocals were commanding and his attitude was no-nonsense. At the end of songs he shook his guitar as if wringing every last note from it, before striding into the next number.
“Study in Blue” was the highlight, a dream-like fusion of jazz and dub reggae with his wife Hannah on backing vocals, for which Weller wrecked his spotless Modfather look by wrapping a plasticky melodica around his neck. Middle age has opened up expansive and adventurous possibilities in his music.
For the second half of the show he played a series of muscular acoustic versions of his solo songs, before switching with a “Right, let’s have it” back into electric mode. The only Jam song was “Town Called Malice” as an encore. A protest song against unemployment and austerity in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, it was a pointed choice of finale. Even nostalgia has a purpose in Weller’s fruitful 50s.
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