fter three decades in the limelight, Paul Weller is finally starting to show his age. The once restlessly inventive Modfather has been laboring of late, struggling with writer’s block (witness his 2004 Studio 150 album, a covers collection) and, perhaps more fatally, suffering from a near overdose of “Dadrock.” Which isn’t to say that Weller doesn’t still make good records, because he does. But a live set (two discs worth, no less, recorded last December at the Alexandra Palace in London) is not necessarily the best showplace for the traditional British rocker stance that he has undertaken for the last decade or so. To put it bluntly, it sounds a bit stale.
Still, things start out promisingly, as Weller tears into “The Weaver” and “Out of the Sinking” and a fiery “Blink and You’ll Miss It.” A strong start, but from that point on, things are uneven to say the least—ranging from decent new numbers (recent single “From the Floorboards Up”) to boring tune-by-numbers fare (“Going Places” and “The Changingman,” both devoid of any charm without their studio productions) to the positively drowsy (power ballads “You Do Something to Me” and “The Pebble & The Boy” just creak along). The utterly unnecessary “Foot of the Mountain” sounds like it would have been filler on Frampton Comes Alive! or some other such 70s live album—material that a young, brash Weller never would have touched.
The frustration level on the album hits its highest point, however, at the beginning of the second disc. Weller drops a Jam-era nugget, fan-favorite “In the Crowd” and the place goes mad. An adventurous choice (the song dates back to 1978 and wasn’t even released as a single), you really feel the vibe and joy of artist and audience unified and basking in the glory of their hero and the good old days. I found myself smiling like an idiot, as I was whisked back to my high school-era bedroom as an angry young black-suited Weller stared down at me from the poster on my wall, slashing his Rickenbacker and sweating like a beast. Perfect. I bet if I had been there I would have cried. I bet some people there did.
The whole thing goes utterly off the tracks, though, when a bit of feedback squall gives way to the worst thing I can possibly imagine coming out of a live set from Weller or anyone else for that matter: a fucking drum solo. A long one. My mouth was agape listening to it, though I suppose the nine-minute-plus track time should have tipped me off. Such cliché moves are sadly not at all unexpected at this point in Weller’s career, and that is a true shame.
But there are some other magic moments here: Weller’s “Porcelain Gods” morphs into Dr. John’s classic “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” with panache, and the closing stretch sees the organ-driven “Broken Stones” revisiting Weller’s much-missed soul vibe before resurrecting a pair of Style Council chestnuts, “Long Hot Summer” (still an amazing tune, and even better in guitar-led mode), and “Shout to the Top” (also sounding fresh without the glossy production that marred the energetic original.) Weller clearly still has teeth, just perhaps not as sharp and dangerous as they used to be. Nothing to be ashamed of, mind you, especially given the long list of highlights he has hit and continues to on occasion.
Tellingly, Weller closes with the Jam classic “Town Called Malice,” which hasn’t aged a day since its release 25 years ago, a subtle capitulation to his audience a la the Rolling Stones, who continue to roll out the “hits” on tour even when the majority of their concert audience have heard them a million times and would likely prefer to hear some lesser-known material from the back pages. Weller has a long way to go before he reaches the self-parodying levels of Mick ‘n’ Keef, but if he doesn’t watch it, he’ll be there before he knows it.