Stephen Pennell is as enamoured with Paul Weller as ever.
Ever since this date was announced I’d been looking forward to my debut at the newly-refurbished Barclaycard Arena with the enthusiasm of the teenager going to his first gig. Weller shows always bring that out in me, despite having seen him what must be close to a hundred times.
I suppose it’s the future-facing focus of The Man Himself that keeps things so fresh – he’s ripped up more successful formulas than any other musician I can think of. He’s in his fourth or fifth purple patch and it’s one that shows no sign of abating anytime soon.
So armed with a new album’s worth of great material and a cannon of circa 500 tunes, he opened with the meaty beat of I’m Where I Should Be, a sentiment with which I and the rest of the enthusiastic crowd whole-heartedly agreed.
Next up was the Stooges-like rush of Long Time, and then the first of an unusually high percentage of crowd-pleasing nostalgia, The Jam’s class-conscious Man in the Cornershop, with Steve Craddock singing the notes that Weller can no longer reach.
The aural-assault of 21st century blues White Sky was accompanied by a light-show the like of which I’ve never seen at a Weller gig before – he’s pulling out all the stops to make this one memorable – followed by the crackling electricity of Come On/Lets Go and the gentler soul of Up In Suzie’s Room.
Style Council devotees like myself were rewarded with the jazz groove of Ever Had It Blue and the soul of (Weller’s biggest US hit, fact fans) Ever Changing Moods, followed by From the Floorboards Up – always a highlight for me and my companion.
New album title-track Saturn’s Pattern and the beautiful schizoid love song Going My Way led into the soul groove of Above The Clouds, the lyrics of which contain the night’s stupidest question: “I have to wonder/Will I last?”
Weller then presented the manifesto for his career, Into Tomorrow, and followed it up with the poignant metronomic throb of his tribute to Amy Winehouse (and hell-raising in general) Paper Chase, in which he asks, “Was earth not enough for you?/No the earth wouldn’t do”.
The anthemic Friday Street morphed into an epic Porcelain Gods, during which I tried not to be offended by Weller’s barbs at critics and reviewers – “More empty words from the living dead/Who seek to explain what can’t really be said”. An unseasonal (but great) Long Hot Summer was followed by a rare outing for house-stomper Starlite, complete with Frankie Knuckles-esque piano motif.
Peacock Suit and Start rounded off the main part of the show nicely, but the best was yet to come. The band returned to the stage with funky new single Pick It Up and These City Streets, a stone-cold Weller classic. A rip-snorting double of In The Crowd and The Changingman close the show for the second time but the audience were having none of it. The Guv’nor returned yet again to chill us all out with a gorgeous tribute to the late, great John Weller, Be Happy Children before smashing out A Town Called Malice to roars of approval and dancing in the aisles.
If I told you I went to a gig at which an artist missed out literally dozens of hits, anthems and show-stoppers, you might be forgiven for thinking I left disappointed. But as that artist has a back-catalogue including forty-year old obscure b-sides that can put most songwriters to shame, you couldn’t be more wrong.