Other Aspects, Live At The Royal Festival Hall
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Paul Weller fans who collect physical media need to make more room on their already sagging shelves for yet another release from the prolific UK singer-songwriter. Those diehards who have followed Weller’s fascinating career from his early punk days fronting The Jam, through the soul/tropicalia years in the somewhat underappreciated Style Council and into a solo career that began inauspiciously in 1992 but has now blossomed into around 15 studio albums and at least four other live discs (plus a handful of DVDs and compilations), will be thrilled to relive this October 2018 show at the titular venue.
Weller didn’t perform many concerts with a full orchestra and horn section on the tour for his True Meanings album, likely due to cost, but thankfully he recorded this one for posterity. All but three tunes from that release are played, with the rest of the 25-song, hour-and-a-half set turned over to interpretations of gems cherry picked from his voluminous recorded output. He even gives a smattering of choice cuts from The Jam (“Private Hell,” “Boy About Town,” and “Tales From The Riverbank,” all interesting choices that dig deeper into that band’s history) and the Style Council (“Have You Ever Had It Blue,” “A Man Of Great Promise”) a whirl with inventive rearrangements that change and generally enhance the studio versions without deviating too far from their vibe.
While we might have been better off with a few less selections from Weller’s superb new album in this predominantly acoustic setting, balanced by more items from his back pages, the presentation is stunning and often moving. The orchestrations are never fussy or overbearing. They infuse a fresh, innovative sheen to older material such as the title track from Wildweed, Stanley Road’s “You Do Something To Me” and “Where’er You Go” off 2008’s 22 Dreams, the latter stripped down to piano, acoustic guitar and featuring a stunning cello solo. He even rescues “Strange Museum” from ’92’s debut.
Weller’s in sturdy, soulful voice throughout. There is virtually no interaction with the audience, yet he’s clearly invested in this performance. Even if you’re familiar with the older material, you’ll want to explore it again after hearing it revived with full orchestration. The audio mix is stunning, the strings and horns are beautifully conceived and the entire concert is a succinct and often challenging overview of one of the UK’s most consistently impressive and creative singer-songwriters. Weller is a journeyman UK icon that more Americans should know about; experiencing this expansive CD/DVD package is a terrific way to accomplish that.