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Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Sun 28 Jan.
As the last strains of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows fade into the ether, the lights go down and a full house at the Sydney Opera House greets Paul Weller warmly. He and his band make their way towards their respective instruments and begin the show with White Sky, a song from 2015’s Saturns Pattern. That particular album must be a current favourite of Weller’s because five out of the first seven songs are found on it. One of the two interlopers is Eton Rifles, a number from The Jam’s 1979 effort Setting Sons. It is presented in a more deliberate, less frenzied manner than witnessed on previous occasions, but the menace is still present and the crowd still goes a little bonkers for it.
“Thank you very much; good evening,” says Weller, and promises that he and the band will do their best to match the “f*cking great” experience of the previous night.
The three musicians spanning the front of the stage offer a sumptuous visual cross-section of mod culture. Andy Crofts (bass) sports a velvety jacket and big BritPop hair, there’s not a single inch of superfluous fabric on guitarist Steve Cradock’s suit and, as for Paul Weller… well, he’d look good in anything.
“What a wonderful, wonderful place this is…incredible,” Weller says as he moves from guitar to piano for the first (but probably not the last) time this evening.
As expected, the show features songs spanning every stage of Weller’s career. It’s mainly focused on his solo material – his largest body of work – but there’s time for enough selections from The Style Council and The Jam’s hit parades to keep folks happy. There aren’t too many surprises, yet with such a marvellous back catalogue there are always going to be omissions. The Style Council’s Have You Ever Had It Blue is a welcome inclusion (despite Weller’s obvious lack of love for the Absolute Beginners film), and Ever Changing Moods has the bulk of the audience up and dancing. There’s a need to quickly shuffle the setlist after a guitar malfunction – hardly surprising with so many guitar changes going on – but Cradock’s introduction to Hung Up isn’t wasted, it just comes a song early. Man In The Corner Shop, Broken Stones, Shout To The Top! and the beautifully measured You Do Something To Me all speak volumes for the quality of Weller’s canon.
Weller’s voice seems to get better and better; the power and the soulfulness show no signs of weakening any time soon. Cradock, Weller and Crofts keep the guitar sound at the forefront of the songs, but Tom van Heel (keyboards), Steve Pilgrim (drums) and Ben Gordelier (percussion) do their fair share in making the music something approaching magical. Overall, this is a fabulous ensemble.
The set finishes strongly, with Porcelain Gods (featuring a brilliant, extended guitar solo section), Peacock Suit and, finally, Start! bringing an end to the first chapter of the night.
After a short break, Pilgrim joins the front line (all seated) and the band plays a semi-acoustic session. As well as the more obvious and gratefully received selections: English Rose, That’s Entertainment and Wild Wood, the set also features Gravity, Hopper (from the new album) and a great version of Out Of The Sinking.
The last section of the evening is a short encore, designed to send everyone home happy. Come On Let’s Go prefaces a magnificent finale comprising two of Weller’s greatest moments. The Changingman and Town Called Malice bring the curtain down on a splendid performance from this amazing sextet. In two-and-a half-hours, the audience has heard a showcase of 32 songs that will live long in the memory.
It’s a long way from the Sheerwater Youth Club to the Sydney Opera House but no-one present this evening would doubt that Paul Weller is exactly where he should be.
by David Robinson
Image courtesy of David Robinson