Concert: Paul Weller in Los Angeles
At the Greek Theatre on Friday night, Paul Weller opened with the Style Council's soft-rocking 1984 hit "My Ever Changing Moods," his biggest ever in the U.S. that stunningly only made it to No. 29. Nearly two hours later, he closed with "The Changingman," the Traffic-like rocker from his third solo album, 1995's "Stanley Road."
Perhaps no artist has more effectively summed up their career with the songs chosen to open and close a gig. Both tunes showcase the musical restlessness and adventurousness that has marked Weller's ever-changing musical output, which ranges from The Jam's three-chord, punk-era blasts to his latest experimental rock solo effort, "Sonik Kicks," and includes the Style Council's forays into R&B in between.
Backed by a crack five-piece band, Weller gave his loyal following a taste of each era from the nearly 40-year career that's made him a national hero in England, but has left him a cult artist in the U.S. He placated the crowd by offering some Jam songs, first with "Running on the Spot," and later with "Carnation," "Just Who is the 5 O'Clock Hero," and "Start!" Yet every time he played a Jam classic, he upped the intensity by following it with one of his newer solo tracks, as if to prove that he's still making music as vital. Following "Running on the Spot" came "Wake Up the Nation," a rollicking clarion call in which Weller ripped at his guitar, pumped his fist and bopped his head, spitting out lines like, "get your face off Facebook and turn off the phone." "Start!," The Jam track famous for lifting The Beatles "Taxman" bass riff, went up against "Kling I Klang," a furious slice of punky reggae from "Sonik Kicks."
Back when The Jam was flirting with U.S. success before Weller decided to pull the plug on the trio in 1982, they were often deemed "too English" to make it in America. The tag in some sense still applies to Weller, who acknowledged that his music doesn't always strike a chord in the U.S. when he introduced the Style Council's soul celebration "Shout to the Top," saying, "Here's one you might know," but adding it's tough to know what's popular in America.
Yet even with the less than familiar material, he offered rewards. "Moon on Your Pyjamas," a song Weller said he wrote for his then five-year-old son, may not be as iconic as John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy," but it has similar sweetness and warmth. The subtle soul of "Above the Clouds," a track from his 1992 self-titled solo debut, sounded like a lost Marvin Gaye classic.
By moving from electric to acoustic numbers, and even sitting down at the keyboard for several tunes, including the Style Council's "Long Hot Summer," Weller and company provided a nicely paced and varied set, with several high points. The Jam's epic "Strange Town" had the crowd shouting, "Break it up, break it up" in the song's anthemic climax, and the soul ballad "Broken Stones" had couples swaying in the aisles.
At 54, Weller is remarkably fit and still in strong voice. With Joe Strummer and the Ramones gone, he stands as one of the few survivors from the punk class of '77 that's still making vital music with his integrity intact, resisting the urge for a cash-in reunion. Weller didn't draw a sell-out crowd, but most of the people treated Weller like a returning hero and even stayed after the final encore, hoping the he'd play one more.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings opened with a rousing 45-minute set that recalled a James Brown revue or perhaps an Ike & Tina Turner set, sans Ike.
My Ever Changing Moods (The Style Council)
Running on the Spot (The Jam)
Wake Up the Nation
That Dangerous Age
When Your Garden's Overgrown
Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero? (The Jam)
The Cost of Loving (The Style Council)
Carnation (The Jam)
Foot of the Mountain
Long Hot Summer (The Style Council)
You Do Something to Me
Moon on Your Pyjamas
Above the Clouds
Start! (The Jam)
Kling I Klang
Shout to the Top! (The Style Council)
Strange Town (The Jam)
Up the Dosage
Around the Lake