The Modfather keeps his legions happy at the Odyssey Arena
At 50-years of age, Paul Weller is already an elder statesman of the UK rock fraternity. He led the Mod movement in the 1970s as chief songwriter and frontman with The Jam, reinvented himself with The Style Council in the 1980s, and attracted a new generation of retro-obsessives with his almost perfect 1995 solo album, Stanley Road.
If tonight is anything to go by, however, the legendary Modfather is still as committed and energetic as ever. He strikes at his guitar with vehemence throughout, pumping out chords and rolling out riffs like a man possessed – or plugged into a Marshall stack.
Fronting a band isn’t about posing for Weller. He takes to the Odyssey Arena stage like he’s playing the Hackney Dog and Bone. In fact, his entire show is refreshingly lacking in pretension. He refuses to rely on overblown lighting effects to heighten the experience. Tonight is about musicianship, and Weller delivers in spades.
Ostensibly this Belfast date is part of a tour to promote 22 Dreams - a 21 track concept album that garnered Weller his best reviews in years when it was released in June 2008.
But Weller is more than open to appeasing his fans’ lust for past glory. Tonight’s set list is littered with Stanley Road classics (‘The Changingman’, ‘You Do Something To Me’, ‘Broken Stones’), Style Council chart-toppers, 'That's Entertainment', and a spellbindingly inventive, trip-hop rendition of everyone’s favourite acoustic number, the wonderfully haunting ‘Wild Wood’.
It's a set designed to keep the Odyssey crowd interested, and as such Weller should be applauded for his willingness to please. A four-song acoustic interlude does just that, although Weller's latter day, post Stanley Road rock sound is, at times, much of a muchness - all very samey, songs dripping one into the other, separated only by their catchy choruses and hooks to kill.
That said, 22 Dreams took the Weller sound and applied more than a touch of experimentation to the mix. Played live, new songs like the single 'Have You Made Up Your Mind' might have been written circa '83, whilst 'One Bright Star' sees Weller experiment with a samba beat and album-closer 'Sea Spray' develops into an abstract soundscape that is sheer musical LSD - Weller meets DJ Shadow meets Sigur Ros.
It's a shame they don't try 'God', a lovely mix of acoustic guitar and spoken word poetry, featuring the Manc tones of guitarist Aziz Ibrahim - written and produced by Weller, it's a definite departure for the Modfather. If he didn't enjoy writing so much, they'd be queuing round the block for his production services.
With the crowd fully limbered up, Weller ends his first encore with 'Cold Moments' accompanied by images of 911 and the Twin Towers, burning Palestinians, napalm victims, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr and John Lennon campaigning for peace. The Odyssey erupts, the name Barack Obama on everyone's lips. It's a rare moment of musical and topical synergy - euphoric.
Seeming like it's lasted a brisk 45 minutes, Weller ends his two-hour set with the uplifting 'Town Called Malice', the second Jam song of the night. Tipsy 40- and 50-year olds dance in the aisles, young hipsters can't believe their luck. He might have played on, but perhaps Weller needs a sit down, a nice cup of tea and a cigarette. He's getting on, you see - although you wouldn't know it.