I’ve seen Paul Weller a fair bit over the years, and each and every time he’s an inspiration.
But what made Saturday night’s appearance at Preston Guild Hall stand out was perhaps the highly-sociable demeanour of the front-man.
No disrespect intended, but he can – at least publicly – come over as a bit of a surly bugger at times, his cool on-stage persona and gruff manner often misunderstood.
But at the Guild Hall this time around, you got the feeling he was on a personal as well as creative high, digging the experience, his high spirits nothing short of infectious.
I’ve loved near on everything’s he’s done since, but for me that era when he put the Style Council to bed and first found his own feet was defining.
In the old days of chewed-up cassettes, his debut solo album and follow-up Wild Wood were more or less on loop in my car and something of the fabric of my life.
That carried on with Stanley Road, and while a lot happened with Paul’s and our own lives in the following years, he remained a respected if not aloof surrogate uncle for me and many others.
He’s proved himself time and again since, and the last trio of albums have been pretty startling, not least 2008’s 22 Dreams and last year’s Sonik Kicks.
His set at Preston at the weekend proved the might of that recorded output, seeming to just dip in and out of 10 solo albums at will, while throwing in three ’80s classics.
Paul’s year 2000 gig at the same venue illustrates my earlier point. It was the first real night out for the better half and I after the birth of our eldest daughter, and great as the set was in that Heliocentric period, he didn’t seem happy on the night. It didn’t overly bother me though. This was Weller after all.
While there was a far better on-stage vibe last time at Preston in late 2009 – between 22 Dreams and Wake Up The Nation – I was particularly ill that night. Everything went very fuzzy just before the encore – a superb night sullied by a virus that left our mate Jim bailing out of our big night to drive us home.
I’ve since seen footage of those last songs, but still come out in a sweat as I transport myself back to that fateful night.
Saturday was different though, and from the moment The Who’s La-La-La-Lies rang out over the PA, I instinctively felt we were in for a good ’un.
Weller may be more chatty on stage these days, but clearly hasn’t lost his hard drive, and it must test his band-mates keeping up with this re-invigorated 55-year-old.
At times it was like watching footballers taking drinks breaks on blazing hot afternoons, the water bottles coming in handy between songs for long-time sidekick guitarist Steve Cradock and mighty bass presence Andy Lewis.
Yet as well as Weller’s direction, there’s a further youthful vibe provided by Liverpudlian drummer Steve Pilgrim, plus The Moons’ keyboard player Andy Crofts and percussionist/whatever-else-ist Ben Gordelier.
There’s still plenty of edginess too, the band straight away tearing into Wake Up The Nation, From The Floorboards Up and 1993’s seminal Sunflower.
My first big surprise came with Bull Rush from the debut solo, complete with its Magic Bus out-tro, still every bit as powerful.
As Is Now’s Come On Let’s Go then took us back into rock’n’roll masterclass territory, before the wondrous Seaspray from 2008. It’s difficult to match the recorded version, but the band did alright.
Then came the worthy Ronnie Lane tribute He’s The Keeper, and while the audience maybe weren’t too sure how to receive that, a feelgood factor returned on a Curtis Mayfield-like run through Style Council fave My Ever Changing Moods, 29 years after its release.
The bright and breezy vibe continued with last year’s The Attic before another welcome Weller curve-ball, a gloriously-wistful Going Places from 2002’s Illuminations.
A lump came to the throat for this scribe as the band launched into near-perfect Friday Street from 1997’s Heavy Soul, then tackled Stanley Road’s immense Porcelain Gods, again to good effect.
It was nice to hear the crowd in good voice for 1992’s Above the Clouds, this turning into something of an unexpectedly-mellow evening after that initial salvo.
Last year’s perfect pop of That Dangerous Age was next, followed by the brooding Dragonfly, and while that seemed to catch the crowd out, as if not quite sure how to react, perhaps they were just happy enough to catch their breath.
The Private Hell-like bark of 7 & 3 Is The Striker’s Name jolted us all back either way, while Peacock Suit was a more user-friendly triumph, as you might expect.
And then they were gone on the back of 1980’s Start, which will never fail to please.
I think the bookies might have stood to make a few quid from punters perming the next four songs in that first encore from the hundreds Paul has recorded these last 35-plus years.
But it was a winning combination all the same, from Stanley Road’s up-lifting Out of The Sinking to 2010’s dreamy Andromeda and beyond.
Heliocentric’s wistful Picking Up Sticks was next, giving rise to Pilgrim taking on where fellow Steve White left off a few years before, and then there was last year’s beautifully-introspective Be Happy Children, the main man still ensconced at the piano.
But glorious as all that was, Paul couldn’t leave us on such a mellifluous moment, returning with guitar in hand for the beatific Wild Wood, then sending us on our way with The Jam’s A Town Called Malice, every bit as fresh and relevant today as in 1982.
* With thanks to Hannah Slater & Preston Guild Hall
* For a link to the April 2012 writewyattuk take on Sonik Kicks, click this link
* To read the writewyattuk interview with Bruce Foxton, go here
* And for the latest news from the Weller camp and forthcoming live dates, head here