Words & pics by Eleanor Sutcliffe
You can spot Paul Weller fans from a mile off. Clad in Fred Perry polo shirts and jeans, and finished off with a Harrington jacket, the Genting Arena is teeming with them. It looks like everyone has stepped out of the 80s, back when The Jam were at the height of their career.
Since Weller first emerged as The Modfather back in the day, he has released a total of 26 albums with three different ensembles. His 14th as a solo artist, True Meanings, is scheduled for release on 14th September. As a musician who has been performing since before I was born, I decided to bring along the biggest Paul Weller expert I know – my dad, who has been listening to Weller since he was 15 and is brutally honest after a pint or two.
As a rescheduled show, having postponed the original March gig due to severe weather conditions – namely ‘the beast from the east’ – the Genting Arena isn’t as busy as I had anticipated; many fans have not been able to make it to the new date, and the new seating arrangements which have been put in place have got some that could angry and frustrated. We slowly weave our way through disgruntled men and women before settling in by the sound desk for the evening.
Paul Weller’s stage is surprisingly bare. Having shot my fair share of shows in the Genting Arena, I have become accustomed to bizarre stage set ups, with CO2 cannons, pyro, and just about every visual prop you can think of. He’s forgone all this for two simple black and white film screens each side of the stage to broadcast his performance. A brave move for someone in this day and age, however somehow it works. Weller’s audience aren’t here for the theatrics – they’ve been lifelong fans, many of them listening to his material since they were in their teens.
Kicking off his set with ‘White Sky’ from his 12th album Saturns Pattern, we’re treated to a 29 song setlist which spans the entire of Weller’s career. While his newer material such as ‘Woo Sé Mama’ certainly gets people swaying, it’s not surprising that it’s material from his days in The Jam and The Style Council which garners the best reaction tonight; after people head for the bar during ‘Long Time’, they’re soon racing back in to dance along to ‘Man in a Corner Shop’.
It must be hard playing to a crowd who only seem to want to hear the classics, as many leave the arena to grab refreshments during Weller’s more recent songs. As an artist who has expressed numerous times his desire to move away from his Modfather days, I can only imagine his frustration at playing new material to a room who seem more interested in the contents of a ‘greatest hits’ compilation from The Jam. Every time a tech appears on stage clutching a telecaster guitar, the crowd begin to whoop excitedly, knowing they’re about to hear yet another 80’s throwback.
Despite this, Weller is in good spirits and glides effortlessly between instruments, dabbing with a grand piano during tracks like ‘You Do Something to Me’. His performance is top notch, which is impressive considering the different genres we are treated to throughout the night. From the Britpop style of ‘That’s Entertainment’ to the folk ballad ‘Wild Wood’, Weller and his backing band flit seamlessly between styles with ease.
He’s also the only artist I have ever witnessed to do not one, but two encores, although this confuses the crowd somewhat and results in a third of them leaving before he performs ‘Town Called Malice’. To my amusement, a gentleman in front of us begins to clap his crutches excitedly over his head while screaming along to the chorus. It’s a sight to behold.
Taking a bow along with his band to rapturous applause from the room, I’m excited to see what style we’ll be treated to when True Meanings is released in September. And whilst the album’s early releases and cited collaborations point towards his more folk focused songwriting, the beauty with Paul Weller’s music is that it truly could be anything.
For more on Paul Weller, visit www.paulweller.com
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For more on the Genting Arena, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.gentingarena.co.uk
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