First things first – during Monday’s “Jam” theme night at New York’s packed to the gills Irving Plaza, Paul Weller performed 10 Jam songs – eight of them at the show’s beginning. Opening with two b-sides “Shopping” (flip to “Beat Surrender) and “Tales From the Riverbank” (“Absolute Beginners”), it was clear this was a night for long-time fans. While I loved The Jam in ways I’ve only loved a handful of bands, Weller’s Style Council and solo output has not reached me in nearly the same way. So as the euphoric explosions of adulation erupted around me for solo songs I had limited familiarity with, I began to feel like an interloper to a really cool private party. To all you Brits (and I’m sure some locals too) who grinned, fist pumped, sang along to every word... you made my night. One small aside (and I like beer as much as anyone) – pace yourself my brothers.
The show had an up and down pace with many highlights – the consecutive Jam quintet of “Carnation”, “English Rose”, “That’s Entertainment”, “Man in The Corner Shop” and a blinding “Thick as Thieves”, the post-Jam set opener “From The Floorboards Up” (my god what a song and all the evidence you need to show Weller is still relevant), piano ballad “The Pebble and the Boy” and last song of the night “Town Called Malice”, which became a total celebration with the audience taking over vocals for half the song. Lowlights included two extended “heavy soul” jams – an interminable cover of Dr. John’s “I Walked on Gilded Splinters” and another extended solo vamp. But really those are minor quibbles… this show was another reminder of why I obsess over rock and roll – the magic that only be conjured up by audience and performer for one night.
Why has Paul Weller aged gracefully and remained relevant when so many others (I’m looking at you Gordon Sumner and you, John Lydon) have become either bloated caricatures or mere shadows of former glories gladly milking the reunion cash cow? He famously broke up the Jam at age 24 when they were arguably England’s biggest band (but mystifyingly never rose above cult status here in the U.S.), formed another successful band, the soul/pop/jazz Style Council, and since then has had a string of muscular solo records, some only “escaping” on these shores. On Monday night, he looked and sounded great – sharply dressed in a brown sharkskin suit and coming only a few pounds over his 1978 fighting weight. His vocals were a little huskier but still plenty of grit as he spit out lyrics with that famous Weller passion and disgust – also special kudos to the Irving Plaza sound crew for mixing the vocals right up in your face.
So as much as I would have liked the whole 2 hour plus set to be devoted to recreating the music of the Jam, Paul Weller once again earned his iconoclastic reputation by proving that he is still the leading light of the class of ’77, and really the only one (save EC) still vibrant with the passion and creative spark needed to continue a meaningful legacy in 2007. God bless Paul Weller.