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Jam, Style Council, solo -- all Weller and good

February 05, 2007|Natalie Nichols | Special to The Times

Fans still call acclaimed British rocker Paul Weller "the Modfather," but the man they came to worship Saturday at Avalon Hollywood had long outgrown that moniker, a reference to his late-'70s beginnings as leader of U.K. punk hit-makers the Jam. His hair was certainly spiky and mod, albeit a shockingly golden blond, but this first of three sold-out nights included all the interlocking aspects of his 30-year career.

Reticent but not unfriendly, Weller shared an easy, intelligent rapport with his audience of mostly middle-aged fans, dotted with younger devotees and even a few families. These shows represent half his U.S. appearances supporting "Hit Parade," a new retrospective from indie label Yep Roc that for the first time collects his work with the Jam, with subsequent group the Style Council and as a solo artist.

A far better showcase for Weller's ever-changing musical moods, Saturday's nearly two-hour set encompassed the Jam's elastic energy, the Style Council's jazz-pop sophistication and the Motown, soul, funk and progressive notes he's hit as a solo act. Yet Weller, 48, has maintained a core dedication to clever, often scathing, commentary about English culture and politics, a la such personal heroes as the Who's Pete Townshend and the Kinks' Ray Davies, as well as more emotional subjects such as romance in all its frustrating wonderment.

The iconoclastic (some might say contrarian) singer-guitarist and his band -- guitarist Steve Craddock, bassist Damon Minchella and former Style Council drummer Steve White -- were seated during the acoustic-flavored first 50 minutes. Yet they still offered vigorous renditions of Jam rarities and favorites such as "Shopping," a dreamy and propulsive "Tales From the Riverbank" and the one-two punch of the scornful dismissal "The Butterfly Collector" and the vivid "That's Entertainment."

Finally standing up and bringing out electric guitars, they shifted into overdrive with a sprawling take on Weller's "Peacock Suit," then settled into a blazingly soulful groove that brought to mind funk pioneer Curtis Mayfield, incorporating Weller's "Into Tomorrow" and culminating in a sweaty, psychedelic version of Dr. John's New Orleans classic "I Walk on Gilded Splinters."

After a short, calming piano interlude, which thankfully skirted the blander R&B in Weller's oeuvre, the evening closed in high spirits with his recent "Come On/Let's Go" and the Jam's U.S. favorite "Town Called Malice."

Just like that, this winding journey came full circle -- and was suddenly, disappointingly, over.

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