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(Photo by Daniel Boud)


Sydney Opera House, February 9

AT THIS POINT in a career a shout short of 50 years, and with no sign of an end, it is worth pondering which Paul Weller this audience came to see at the first of a three-show, hit-and-run Australian (for which read, Sydney only) tour.

The smooth soul jazz man? The electronics-and-beats man? The unwitting father of Britpop? The folk rocker or once-was-punk-then-new-waver? All of the above? In a show lasting two hours, through 27 songs, played by a lean, lined, grey haired and debonair stylist in flat front trousers and long-sleeved polo, everything was possible. And lo, everything happened.

There was, for example, a whole five-song first encore that leant into the mellow and tempered when most artists would have punched up at least once: from the low burning slice of heart that was Broken Bones – a song Otis Reading would have loved to have, or would have recognised its respectful origins in his patch – and the country soul of Mayfly, a song to watch a sun set by, to the slow London turning intensity of You Do Something To Me. That one was a reminder that his Small Faces-fandom incorporated Ronnie Lane as much as Steve Marriott (whose influence could practically be snorted from the double drums rhythm and blues Into Tomorrow).

Mellow went out the window for the chunky rock power drive that was Nova, the mix of chiming mid-‘60s guitar and brooding late-‘60s bluesiness that was Changing Man, and the gutsy, almost cocky estuary rocker that was the impressive, as-yet-unreleased Jumble Queen, a number you could imagine a slightly older Jam doing – which may explain why Weller took that solo himself rather than his long-time confrere Steve Craddock.

(Paul Weller in full band width; Steve Craddock in white. Photo by Daniel Boud)

While Fat Pop blended treated sounds, woozy electronics and a snaky rhythm, Village gave us a bucolic midtempo rockfield, and Cosmic Fringes used a squelchy bottom end to drive a kind of keep-on-trucking rhythm that was equal parts autobahn and the M6, ye olden golden days got their time too.

A Man Of Great Promise offered a sax sound so ‘80s it probably came with an anti-Thatcher badge, and that quintessential tale of Thatcher’s ‘80s, A Town Called Malice, proved itself once again the most up-tempo downbeat song you absolutely must dance to. Elsewhere, a faster My Ever Changing Moods added southern soul punch to what used to be a relaxed groove; a slower Start! was more considered groove than push, a measured Head Start For Happiness was almost a caress; and, on the back of a full bounce from electric piano, Shout To The Top saw seats spring back, people leap up, and joy had as the first hour turned.

There was more, a lot more – and I haven’t even mentioned the straight out beautiful tune housed in All The Pictures On The Wall. But what would have been clear to even the most obtuse observer by the end of this night is that wherever he ventures, whatever the tools and musical haircuts, whichever Paul Weller you come to see, the unchanging part is that at the centre of it is a soul-based pop classicist with no reason to stop.

And he’s alright you know.




A version of this review ran originally in The Sydney Morning Herald.




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