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Paul Weller – Hammersmith Apollo London

FL_paulWeller_500pxYou couldn’t really set it up any better: Paul Weller, a sell-out home town gig on a Saturday night, last show of the tour and Ronnie Wood on stage with him. That should have been the platform for a special gig but it just…wasn’t.

Your writer left disappointed so I’ll get the whining over to start with. Far too much mediocre paint-by-numbers rock, an overload of newer material, very little rapport with the audience and only playing for an hour and 40 minutes.

Do I feel better having got that out? No I don’t.

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Interview – Dot Dash

On their 2011 debut Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash, Washington DC’s Dot Dash proved post-punk needn’t be all about icy angularity, bringing dynamism and a warm, almost pop sensibility to the forefront. They return with Winter Garden Light, a thrilling album that builds on the strengths of their opener while showcasing a band confidently developing new modes of attack. We caught up with them to chat about the new release:

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Re-issue, repackage, extra track and a tacky badge – the 10 best compilations

Discovering every nook and cranny of a band is a fulfilling task. It’s also a long one and, really, who has the time? Luckily for you, Howlin’ Whippet is here to point us towards the best compilation albums one can get hold of. Time saved!

Compilation albums are a bit of a strange beast. Often thought of as the poor cousin by ‘proper fans’, they’re nonetheless often a quick fix for those of us who try to leave the fanboy stuff back with the acne lotion.

Being the music snob/nazi that I proudly am, I can see the point of the purity of the actual album. For yes, that’s the way our heroes wanted it to be listened to. It’s a piece of art, a whole, an organic thing.

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Age ain’t nothing but a number

Ah, maturity. Paul Weller sang about it on ‘When You’re Young’ all those years ago, which was odd because he was about 7 himself at the time, but still, we got his point. Music was a young person’s game. But all that’s changed over the last few years. The kids are still there, sure, but they are too busy having group sex and doing woof-woof or whatever it’s called to make a difference.  Now, it’s the grey pound everyone is after. Well, maybe not the grey one, but certainly the pound which is being considered to help buy a new stair carpet.

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The song remains the same – Paul Weller’s new album

Paul Weller returns this week with Wake Up the Nation, an album which, staggeringly, turns out only to be the tenth offering of his near-two decade solo career.

Weller has been in and out of favour with the cognoscenti for so long that it became impossible to determine accurately where he was positioned at any given time – erstwhile guru of elder statesman rock cool or orange-tanned dadrocker with a feathercut best suited to a post-menopausal fiftysomething woman. In the end, the British public decided following this was a bit too much hassle; they liked his music and liked him, so afforded him national treasure status (albeit a slightly narky national treasure.) Continue reading

Didn’t mean to break your heart – When bands split

Everyone suffers a loss of some kind in their lifetime. Parents divorce, relationships end, budgies and grandparents pop off to the big sitting room in the sky. And bands split up or lose members.

The recent news of Steven Page’s departure from my favourite band, Barenaked Ladies, has stirred some very surprising emotions in me, none that I ever thought I would feel for 5 men who make chirpy alternative pop music.

It has been a proper grieving process; first the denial – as witnessed by my first text reply to the friend who broke the news, which read simply “fuck off”. Then came the anger, which involved significantly more swear words, as Mr Page was invited to go and perform carnal duties to his good self via the medium of twitter. Eventually the acceptance came, as the remaining band played a show last week that turned out to be not too bad. It’s not the same and never will be, but change happens.

All this got me thinking about other, probably a bit more influential (if I’m being honest) bands who have lost a member or given up the ghost, sending millions of fans into a spiral of grief and despair.

Let’s start with The Smiths. The Smiths were a shining beacon of wit and irony in the early 80’s sea of morose goth and tragic new romanticism. With a messiah-like front man and some of the finest musicianship known to man, in the form of Johnny Marr, their fans were adoring, obsessed, meniacal masses, ready to do almost anything the Moz told them to (as long as it involved throwing gladioli and wearing NHS specs and oversized floral shirts).

But by the end of 1987 it was all over. Johnny Marr was burnt out and pissed off, and left the band. Unthinkably, they actually tried to replace him, but after a half arsed search they gave up and split up.

Hearts broke everywhere, and the cult of the band served to propel Morrissey’s solo career further than the band had ever been. Rumours of reunions are frequent, and seem to serve mostly as ticket marketing for American music festivals, proving that those broken hearted fans are nothing if not hopeful.

At the other end of the scale, another Manchester band managed to soldier on far beyond their sell by date. Very similar to The Smiths in thier emergence as a seminal band at the end of the 80s, but driven not by a dynamic partnership, but by the sheer force of guitarist John Squire’s talent, The Stone Roses came out of the traps at a gallop with the their self-title debut, and it really felt that they were going to be something very special. Their swagger and arragance suggested that many good things were to come from the roses, as did the release of the b-side and rarities compilation Turns into Stone in 1992.

But it wasn’t to be. With 5 years worth of hype, expectation and cocaine abuse to contend with, the long awaited Second Coming happened in 1995. It was…OK. Lets just say that if this is what the actual second coming is like, we won’t have to worry about bigotry in Glasgow for much longer. 

This spelled the beginning of the end, but unlike The Smiths, this proved to be a slow, painful demise. Reni left first, and was swiftly replaced. Next to go was John Squire, which should have put the tin lid on things, but arrogance, or greed, or possibly drugs prevailed, and he was also replaced.

What could have been an opportunity to bow out gracefully now became the inevitable decline to a humiliating end, as bassist and singer trudged through live sets backed up by hastily recruited session musicians. Mani and Ian Brown eventually admitted defeat at the end of 1996 after dragging what was left of the good name of the Stone Roses through the mud of several European festivals.

No-one cried. But fans will always mourn the lost potential glimpsed during thier pomp. Witness the early success of John Squire’s The Seahorses, or Ian Brown’s continued steady record and live sales to know there is a hard core of fans who still believe that potential could be fulfilled.

Other fans have loved and lost. Paul Weller singlehandedly stopped The Jam at the height of their powers, and I know a few people who will never forgive him (most notably messers Foxton and Buckler). Whilst Bill Berry won’t be mourned in the same way, many poeple say REM’s harmonies have never been the same since he decided to become a farmer.

So what is it that drives us to the insane highs and lows of passion over a band? I think our old pal Morrissey put it best when, talking about his own private obsession, The New York Dolls, he said “Some bands grab you and they never let you go and, no matter what they do, they can never let you down”. Maybe this is what makes it so hard when they do let you down. That’s the trouble with admiration; the poor buggers only have one way to go.

But Steven Page is still a bastard.

Paul Weller – Motherwell Civic Hall

When asked if he minded being called the Modfather, Paul Weller once replied “Well, it’s better than being called a cunt, ain’t it?”. When we told some of our friends we were going to see the old soulboy, opinions certainly seem divided straight along these lines. So it was with an open mind that we trekked out to deepest darket Motherwell to see the man to make up our own mind once and for all.

The crowd was a refreshing mix of middle-aged mods and their girlfriends and, despite the football match that at least half of Glasgow had gone to Manchester to watch, it was pretty fulsome (this tour sold out almost immediately, but circumstances meant that tickets for this show have been pretty easy to pick up for the last few weeks).

He certainly looked every inch the Mod as he took the stage with his ridiculously over-straightened feather cut, black button-through shirt and cream drainpipes. He kicked off with a couple of newer songs, but it was only on the third song, the rollicking “From the Floorboards Up” from his well received last studio album As is now, that the crowd really took notice. This opening set the tone for the rest of the 2 hour set, with a pretty even mixture new and old solo songs, and a couple of Jam songs (Butterfly Collector and Eton Rifles), which were met with the understandable rapture.

Other highlights of the set included the new single “Have you made up your mind”, which has the air of a proper soul standard, the unlikely anthemic sing-a-long of “Wildwood”, and “Whirlpool’s End” segueing into a stomping version of The Who’s “Magic Bus”.

As people have come to expect from Mr Weller, the band was incredibly tight, with the ubiquitous Steve Craddock on guitar and the notable inclusion of Gem (out of Oasis) on keyboards. (Notably absent were Steve White on drums and Damon Minchella on bass, who are apparently busy recording an, ahem, acid jazz record). Weller himself is an incredible presence on stage, and his honey-over-gravel vocals benefited from the excellent sound in the venue.

That said, the set was two hours, and 26 songs, long, so there was a fair share of dad rock in there, and it fell a little flat in the middle, as an acoustic set slowed the pace down. The newer stuff sounded just that, untested in the live arena, and this lack of polish did not stand up well to the older stuff, which he, and crowd, belted out with comfort and ease.

So, at the end of the gig, do we side with Noel Gallagher or PW’s old pal Poalo Hewitt? Here at ELM, we tend to take people as we find them, and love him or loathe him, you can’t deny the talent and drive of the man. The Modfather it is then.