Modern Soul: Get Your Sonik Kicks

In May 2008, around the time Paul Weller turned 50, he released ’22 Dreams’ to great critical acclaim. It was the album that spawned another great chapter for ‘The Changingman’, launching him into an experimental purple patch and banishing the ‘Dad Rock’ doubters.

Weller followed ’22 Dreams’ with the even better received ‘Wake Up The Nation, taking in Mercury nominations, Brit Awards and an NME Godlike Genius prize (somewhat tarnished by Dave Grohl winning it the next year).

The new album ‘Sonik Kicks’ is tentatively being hyped as a masterpiece (perhaps one day we will refer to this as Weller’s Psychedelic Sonic Trilogy?) but I have to admit to being slightly sceptical pre-gig.  Does he still have it? A recent howling rendition of ‘Foot of the Mountain’ for BBC radio sounded more like a Paul Weller tribute act.

As such the announcement that The Roundhouse shows would involve the full playing of Sonik Kicks (before it has been fully released) raised caution. The end of The Style Council saw a similar thing with people storming out of the Albert Hall in disgust at ‘Modernism: A New Decade’.

When interviewed last week at a special Birthday gig for 6Music Weller told Lauren Laverne that a good gig was one when ‘people stayed and clapped…’ He was half joking, which of course means he was half serious – he must have been wary himself ahead of this residency.

He needn’t have been.

After a rousing warm-up set from the scandalously talented Baxter Dury, the new slim line silver fox Weller, vintage but never aged, bounced out for opening track ‘Green’ and soon allayed any fears. The suave swagger, the peacock strut, the layered guitars – even the mockney spoken voice vox – everything seemed on the money.

‘The Attic’ quickly followed, it’s quirky and kooky sixties feel creating a colourful whimsy scene reminiscent of something Bowie used to make.

The beautiful ‘By The Waters’ is the acoustic ballad fans have been waiting for since ‘As Is Now’ – it’s haunting, almost melancholic, quality again reflecting Weller’s fixation with water and the seas.  Played with just Weller – sitting and crooning a la ‘Confessions Of A Pop Group’ – and Steve Cradock’s guitar, there’s no greater tragedy than knowing deep down that this tune won’t get the airing it deserves and needs.

It contrasts fantastically with the Kinksy ode to the mid-life crisis ‘That Dangerous Age’ which follows; the lead single already a firm fan favourite with lyrical humour the likes of which not seen since the TSC days (Newly in at 66 in the charts).

‘Study In Blue’ sees Weller duet with his new bride Hannah Andrews – a singer in her own right. Despite looking uncomfortable with the attention she came to the stage and sang beautifully on this strange mix of jazz, soul and electronic dub – slightly ruined by the wall of noise affect but still so fresh and rawly exciting. It seems difficult to replicate the genius of the record for this number.

‘Dragonfly’ and ‘Drifters’ do almost exactly that; they drift nicely but are a bit take-it-or-leave-it. They only serve to soften the eastern rocker that is ‘Around The Lake’ -2 minutes of sheer arrogance – and the touching ‘When Your Garden Is Overgrown’, a Small Faces esque knees up salute to Syd Barrett.

‘Paperchase’ comes out rocking like a mix of Blur’s ‘Beetlebum’ and Bowie circa Aladdin Sane. Clearly this should never work and yet it does – excellent harmonies provided by Andys Lewis and Crofts too.

The final tune of the album (in the finest tradition of say ‘Wings of Speed’) is a gorgeous thoughtful soul number called ‘Be Happy Children’. On the record Weller’s daughter Leah adds vocals (I was very disappointed not to see her) but her presence never detracted from the closer.

At any given Paul Weller event I aim to get close enough to see the shoes. Tonight he was resplendent in a cool dark double breasted suit, with a white tulip collar shirt and turquoise tie – His band (Andy Lewis on bass and harmonies, stalwart Steve Craddock on mainly guitars, The Moons Andy Crofts and Ben Gordelier on keys and percussion respectively and drummer Steve Pilgrim) also proved suitably dapper;  except the typically scruffy Pilgrim. There’s great camaraderie amongst the band; they are a gang, and when decked out in suits they look like something from ‘The Sting’.

It’s a very strange phenomenon to explain without witnessing it; Weller hasn’t aged well, that much is clear. Deep lines are etched across his face. These aren’t laughter lines; these are singing lines. When he starts crooning he still looks as good as in 1980; when he smiles at the false start to ‘Dangerous Age’ he looks like the cheeky Weller of the TSC days.

After a 10 minute interval (where Sonik Kicks was played on the PA) Weller returned, dressed down for the second half.

What followed was special – almost a treat for sticking out the new stuff as we witnessed a rejuvenated setlist. A small acoustic set kicked us off with the full band seated down the front; ‘English Rose’ received terrace cheers and ‘Out of the Sinking’ continues to strike a chord. A stripped back ‘Aim High’ was only just trumped by the spectacularly jazzy ‘Devotion’.

Then the evening becomes electric. Classics like ‘Changingman’, ‘Moonshine’ and ‘From The Floorboards Up’ receive a fresh take and are interspersed with rarities like ‘Stanley Road’ and the stunning electric ‘Foot of the Mountain.’

We ended in style with ‘Whirlpools End’ – a performance that arguably proves the Weller/Craddock act as the best weavers in the business.

And what of the crowd? At times on the Wake Up… tour it was almost as if Weller was trying to coerce the audience to come with him. His fans, whilst loyal, can be even more stubborn than Weller himself. They are at their happiest when English Rose is played (a tune that can make a grown man cry) but to credit them, the whole show was superbly received. Perhaps it was a case of the hardcore Weller fans, the special corps, being out in force, eager to witness their hero on the first new showing – it’s true that even this review is idolatrous. It was nice to see some younger faces taking it all in too.

The solid bond between Weller and Audience is unbreakable now. More than any artist I can think of, Paul Weller means so many things to so many people. He sings people’s lives to them individually and the love between listener and writer is unique in every case.

This is the happiest I’ve seen Weller. Normally he is considered at his best when he attacks the mic, spitting passion and angst like the angry young man in The Jam. Yesternight he seemed contented and he was enjoying it. Crowd banter was minimal as his art did the talking. It was also the loudest I’ve seen him too.

Sonik Kicks is almost The Best Of Paul Weller – it is everything he has ever done on one album and at the same time everything he will do. Much has been made of the new electronic and krautrock influences; to my mind this sounds like a Pau Weller album made NOW.

It is a modern soul record for a new age; a lot of heart and devotion has gone into it’s making.

Ironically he has composed an evolutionary symphony. You can still hear The Small Faces in ‘The Attic’, The Kinks in ‘That Dangerous Age’, even Blur in ‘Paperchase’. But you can hear Paul Weller in all of them. And that’s entertainment.

(Oh come on… You can allow me that last terrible pun! I never mentioned ‘The Modfather once…)

Setlist:

SONIK KICKS:
Green
The Attic
Kling I Klang
Sleep of the Serene
By the Waters
That Dangerous Age
Study in Blue
Dragonfly
When your Garden’s Overgrown
Around the Lake
Twilight
Drifters
Paperchase
Be Happy Children

Acoustic Set:

English Rose
Out of the Sinking
Aim High
All I Wanna Do
No Tears to Cry
Devotion

Black River

Electric Set:

Moonshine
From the Floorboards Up
Stanley Road
Foot of the Mountain
The Changingman
Wake Up the Nation
Fast Car Slow Traffic
22 Dreams
Echoes Round the Sun

Whirlpools End

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Ross
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