Paul Weller’s two gigs at Alexandra Palace at the end of last year got rave reviews, and you can see why from this double CD recording from 5 December. Catch – Flame! makes a nice complement to Weller’s revelatory solo acoustic live album Days of Speed from 2001. Here the Modfather and his band really cause sparks to fly in this trawl through his impressive back catalogue where the concert atmosphere is captured well without jeopardising the sound quality.
Dismissing Weller’s music as ‘Dad rock’ is a totally inadequate description of the output of one of Britain’s finest songwriters over the last 30 years. How many other rock musicians in their late forties have been able, like Weller, to mature without mellowing into middle-aged mediocrity? This album shows there’s still plenty of fire in the belly though the youthful punky anger has found more varied creative outlets.
All the phases of Weller’s music career are embodied here in a surprisingly diverse bunch of 23 songs which sit together well. There are a few old Jam favourites from this poet of modern urban life, evoking its everyday squalor and occasional rapture – an outstanding version of In the Crowd which makes you see the song in a new light, the simple but irresistible That’s Entertainment and, inevitably, ending with the singalong crowd-pleaser A Town Called Malice.
Even that anaemic white soul wannabe outfit The Style Council (which true Weller fans like to regard as an aberration in the same way that Bowie fans regard his abysmal heavy metal incarnation Tin Machine) are represented rather well in Long Hot Summer and Shout to the Top.
From the solo albums the more folksy Weller is present in Wild Wood, while the wistful romantic side of him (forget the arrogant curmudgeonly persona he often seems to adopt in interviews) is there in songs such as You Do Something to Me, Savages and Wishing on a Star. And of course the aggressively rocky Weller is in full flow in the likes of The Changing Man and Peacock Suit, with quite a few tracks from last year’s highly successful album As Is Now, including Paper Smile and Blink and You’ll Miss It.
Of course Weller’s never had a ‘natural’ voice, and he never had a hope of emulating the great soul singers he admires, but over the years he has worked hard to develop his own distinctive vocal style, which is actually pretty decent now. And long-time collaborator Steve Craddock (moonlighting again from Ocean Colour Scene, or should that be the other way round?) has never sounded better on lead guitar – extremely sharp, with interestingly varied textures.
One true test of great live performers is if they can do different versions of their recorded songs, and Weller passes this with ease – here he sounds like someone full of confidence keen to try out new approaches to old songs. In the best sense of the term, the album sounds almost like a ‘jam session’ (sorry, I had to get that in) in the freedom with which the whole band play together. And you can only do that successfully if you’re right on top of your game.