Not one to be found on “the nostalgia circuit” (as he described his contemporaries perpetually touting decades-old hits), Paul Weller is extraordinarily prolific. He is also known for restless bursts of experimentalism and is, in his early 60s, in a golden creative period.
At the beginning of this year he put out an EP exploring his interest in experimental tape music and early electronics on the Ghost Box label, while 2018’s True Meanings was a pastoral folk-rock album embracing his newfound reflectiveness as he turned 60. On Sunset, his July-released album, is a stunning melting pot of warm soul, classic pop, orchestral and electronic music, with splashes of avant-garde.
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So it’s no surprise that this musical powerhouse continued to write as the world shut down (“I thought, I can’t do nothing for six months,” Weller told viewers). Feeling frustrated with the inability to share his new songs in a live setting, he decided to record a show to do just that. This hour-long special was filmed during the August heat wave, reuniting the full band after nearly six months. The resulting film was somewhere between a documentary and a live session, as song performances were interspersed with footage of a topless Weller chatting jovially with bandmates, and (shirt back on) talking thoughtfully about the new music. “We’re like kids again,” he said, “when you’re back on your toys making a noise… it’s just a joy and fun.”
Reflection and life-affirming optimism coursed through the set. The easy “Village” brimmed with lyrics of contentment: “Not a thing I’d change if I could… I don’t need all the things you hold in high regard.”
There was poignant introspection in a mid-set acoustic duo performed seated in an intimate circle. The wistful “Gravity” had the perfect companion in On Sunset’s beautiful, folky “Aspects” which directly followed it, both augmented by the band’s lush harmonising back vocals. Filmed in black and white for gravitas, it was the show’s emotional apex.
“More” embodied Weller’s Buddhist leanings with its lyrics “Little came from having more/ The more we get, the more we lose”, with model Buddhas positioned in the studio. This elegantly floating track, steered by a near-motorik groove, was performed to perfection with jazzy saxophone and feather-light flute.
New tracks “Moving Canvas” and “Testify” had bite and energy, a heavier sound that had been absent from the mellower On Sunset, as if to counteract the feeling of being caged indoors for several months. The former had a compelling percussive interlude, the latter flourishes of flute and hammond organ. Just when you thought the next album might be a return to sprightly tradrock, “Still Glides the Stream” brought contemplative bucolic folk-rock.
Mid-Sömmer Musik was a treat, an opportunity to see some of Weller’s best music performed to studio precision and a window into the creative process and band camaraderie. But with documentary-style video creating one further step of removal for the viewer, it made you feel the absence of the live setting still more keenly. Bring on Weller’s live shows: they’ll be unmissable.