[Thanks to Drive Thru editor Robyn Nisi for this review of Paul Weller's recent show in Chicago]
While many music acts from the '80s are living off the fame grid, save for the occasional reunion tour or award show appearance, Paul Weller is still working hard. The former frontman of The Jam and The Style Council has built a very respectable and varied solo career. While his music is popular in Europe, Weller is virtually unknown in the States, despite his unique brand of soul-tinged rock.
The crowd at the House of Blues last night was sizeable (although not sold out) and for the most part looked like a crowd of middle-aged, well-dressed parents at a football game. Touring for his most recent album 22 Dreams (Yep Roc), Weller is incredible shape, jumping around onstage nursing drinks, and smoking (gasp! Are Brits exempt from the smoking ban?) throughout the evening. His energy matched his set, which covered his career reaching as far back as his days leading The Jam and lasted almost two-and-a-half hours. From the set's opener "Peacock Suit" to the third encore, a cello-tinged cover of "All You Need is Love," Weller's vocals remained strong. The most delightful part of seeing him live is hearing extended, jam-length versions of his songs. "Wild Wood" had an intense, dub-heavy revision, and "Shadow of the Sun" took a trip into Thin Lizzy territory with guitarmonies between him and guitarist Steve Cradock (of Ocean Colour Scene).
Despite how entertaining and rich his entire set was, the crowd was quiet the entire evening but briefly rallied for Weller's best-known hits from the Jam's era, "Town Called Malice" and "That's Entertainment." Many in the crowd, who were likely fans of Weller's music when it debuted thirty years ago, were now in sport jackets and Dockers jumping up and down screaming in delight alongside Weller's younger fans. As I stood next to a dead ringer for imprisoned former 'N SYNC manager Lou Pearlman who was clapping his hands and dancing on the floor, I thought about a somewhat crass line that comedian Chris Rock has said: "You are always going to love the music you were listening to when you first got laid." It seemed like "Malice" loosened up the self-consciousness of the audience, and despite however awkward it looked, people of all ages finally felt free to boogie, albeit for a few minutes. Weller smiled and danced around himself as the floor went wild for his famous chords. Maybe he had the same nostalgia on his mind, too.