On a tour postponed for two years due to the pandemic, Paul Weller returned to perform at the Manchester O2 Apollo on the 15th April. Delivering an extensive set covering his career, playing songs by The Jam, The Style Council and his solo tracks, Weller gave a show that was worth the wait.
Despite the break in performing, Weller, also known as the Modfather, was natural. I chatted with audience member Yvonne Trace, 57, who has been a life-long fan of Weller having seen him live twice before. She remarked that “watching him perform his more mellow tracks on the piano, I felt as though I was watching him in his home without an audience.” This candid honesty ran through the set, as he swore casually about COVID-19 and offered insights into the band’s off-stage conversations. Watching him made it obvious how his career has spanned decades, as I felt invited into his world.
This raw feeling translated to his stripped-back set design, which mainly featured an eclectic arrangement of amps and the band’s instruments. Though he was performing to a sell-out audience in one of Manchester’s largest venues, Weller’s set gave the impression we were watching in a small bar. This helped Weller to create an intimate audience experience, which he continued by dedicating a song to a specific family in the audience. His affinity with the audience encouraged us to form a connection with the music, which was aided by his use of lighting. Beginning the night with flashing bright white spotlights, Weller created anticipation which only made it more thrilling to hear the beginning notes of ‘White Sky’. Later, glitter ball lighting accompanied his performance of ‘You Do Something To Me’, drawing us into his touching performance.
The band made up of Andy Crofts, Tom Van Heel, Ben Gordelier, Steve Pilgrim, Matt Leyland, and Steve Cradock, also used the stage as an opportunity to show their support for Ukraine during the current conflict by hanging the Ukrainian flag.
His ease on stage translated to the setlist, which he described as a mix of “old songs, new songs, all songs”. He transitioned from more upbeat tracks such as the iconic ‘Stanley Road’, which is the title track of his 1995 album, to the slower ‘Going My Own Way’ with no difficulty, showing his capacity as a musician. Though now 63, Weller’s setlist showed a youthful diversity reflected in his energetic performance, as he nimbly traversed the stage. Whilst by the end of the night I was hot from dancing, Paul Weller himself was breathless – completely comfortable.
The long wait for this gig made me eager to see the crowd’s reaction. Though the average audience age was closer to my parents than my own, the Apollo held real energy on the night. In the end, everyone – even those in the seated area – was dancing. Getting to see Paul Weller with some of his long-time fans felt like a privilege, as their passion showed how crucial Weller’s music had been for a generation. Although the setlist had previously planned the impressive two encores, you could easily be convinced that the second encore was prompted by the crowd, who remained chanting “We want more!” even when crew members began clearing away instruments. For me, this double encore was the highlight. In total, both encores gave the audience six more songs, many of which were crowd-pleasers such as ‘That’s Entertainment’, ‘Changingman’ and ‘A Town Called Malice’.
The evening ended with Paul Weller thanking the audience, but as I danced along to such seminal tracks feeling the beats ripple through the floor beneath me, it was me who felt lucky.