Let’s get one thing straight from the start. There’s no point in pretending that this is going to be a reasoned, impartial and unbiased review, because it’s not. That all went out the window when I met Paul Weller in the empty auditorium 20 minutes before this gig and nearly exploded with excitement. They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. Nonsense. It’s mega.
I’ve been paying money to watch Weller since I was 13 and he was 22. We’re now 54 and 63 respectively, and going to see him remains as thrilling an experience for me as it was to that wide-eyed teenager back in the early 1980s. And it’s not just me with this lifelong dedication to all things Weller, which more than one ex-girlfriend of mine has previously called ‘sad’. Looking around the Liverpool Olympia as Weller ran through songs from every stage of his 40-year-plus career, it wasn’t hard to see how much his music has meant to people.
The crowds of ‘golden faces all under 25’ that Weller sang about in 1977 may now be weather-beaten, balding 50-somethings, but they have stayed loyal to the man who has provided the score to birthdays, weddings, divorces and funerals. And so it was against a backdrop of charged, fizzing expectation that Liverpool Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram took to the stage to introduce Weller’s return to the city at the third attempt, given that two scheduled dates had fallen prey to COVID-19 during the past 18 months.
“He’s stayed true to his values and principles, and we know about that in our city of Liverpool,” Rotheram bellowed to the crowd, which included Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.
Then he was there. He might have eight kids and be in his seventh decade, but Weller is dressed effortlessly sharp, his hair hanging in a silver mane that only he could get away with, and bursting with the pent-up energy of a man in his 20s.
“It’s lovely to be back on stage,” he said. “It’s been about two years but feels like two months. We’ve got f**king hundreds of songs to play.” I’m sure he would have done just that, had he been allowed.
With his seven-piece band, which included two drummers and a sublime sax and flute player, Weller kicked off the two-hour set with White Sky from his 2015 album Saturn’s Pattern. The solo favourite Peacock Suit moved things up a gear, before he hit, for me at least, the highlight of the night with the Style Council anthem Shout To The Top. It was emotional and moving, and Weller, with his clenched fist raised to the air, dedicated the song to the city.
“The Republic of Liverpool, the last bastion! God bless you,’ he said before correcting himself. “Never mind that, may the universe bless you,” he added to a huge cheer.
Relaxed and seemingly happy in his own skin, Weller launched into a collection of songs from the landmark, multi-platinum 1995 solo album Stanley Road, which included Broken Stones, Changing Man and the lush You Do Something To Me, all of which were a treat. More solo greats like Above The Clouds, Into Tomorrow and a sensational version of On Sunset, transformed by a 1970s’ soul sax solo, followed before the night came to a frenzied, electrifying close with The Jam’s literary and musical masterpieces That’s Entertainment and Town Called Malice.
But would Weller would have gotten out alive without playing Malice? From the floorboards to the people in the upper circle, everyone was on their feet dancing and lost in the sheer joy of that song and moment.
“I could go on for hours and I probably will,” Weller sang. More than a few of us hoped that he would.
Main images: Paul Weller by Sandra Vijandi
Live images by Joe McKeown.
Dec 1 – Middlesbrough – Town Hall
Dec 3 – Norwich UEA
Dec 4- Lincoln – Engine Shed
Dec 5 – Cambridge – Corn Exchange