Last Wednesday I saw Paul Weller headline the Crisis charity’s Christmas benefit gig at the Hammersmith Apollo. As I gaily anticipated the evening’s festivities in The Swan pub just up the road from the venue and mulled over what he might play, what he might omit and what he should play in my head I could not have expected such a listless set list as the one which was to come.
Indeed, I had been forewarned by a couple of people that he would more than likely pack the set heavily with new material, but I could not have foreseen how much of that stuff he would throw in (or how badly it translates live). Weller started the set with the frankly retroactive ‘From the Floorboard’s Up’ from 2005’s As is Now in emphatic fashion with gusto and energy in equal measure, leading to a joyous, high octane response from the rather large audience in the West London auditorium. Having done so he raised my expectancy of the evening’s potential tenfold and for a little while I was still full of that same hopeful postulation until we got about three quarters of the way through.
As I nipped out for a cheeky cigarette with my brother, I assured him that Weller was sure to play his older, and bluntly better, material in the second half of the gig and so now was a good time for a smoke (this was roughly halfway through). Oh, how we looked forward to hearing ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ from the Jam period of his career and something from Stanley Road and even a Style Council number might go down well we thought, but alas it wasn’t to be.
As we resumed, Woking’s most famous son cranked out a thumping rendition of ‘Strange Town’ and lifted those of us in the upper seating enclosure to our feet to dance. A rapturous, emotive applause went up at the song’s summit, leading me to believe we would surely be treated to more of the same now that we had endured a load of sprawling self-indulgence from 22 Dreams and Sonic Kicks. As it was we got another half-hour or so of the new stuff before The Modfather exited stage left. During the encore we had to endure Emeli Sande for a duet and then, finally, we got a decent rendition of ‘That’s Entertainment’ with Bradley Wiggins rather needlessly helping out on rhythm (he’s a better cyclist than guitarist) and, of course, as is his wont these days, getting his mug in for some attention and milking the summer of 2012 for all it’s worth.
My overall feeling at the end of the gig was one of indifference to what I had just seen. Paul Weller seemingly doesn’t know how to keep a paying audience engaged. Looking downwards into his Telecaster and riffing against a backdrop of Dadrock soul instead of firing into a few classics and giving his fans a good time is not how to do it. By all means play some new stuff, but remember where your bread is buttered and keep the customers satisfied.