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Pop Music Reviews : A Hybrid of Weller Styles at Variety

Paul Weller’s fans might not be legion, but they don’t forget.

The Englishman, a prominent and fiery presence in the punk movement as leader of the Jam before suddenly becoming a purveyor of groove-oriented soul music with the Style Council, has been out of the public eye for several years. But there was a full house to greet him when he returned to the wars on Wednesday at the Variety. Indeed, after the first two nights sold out, three more shows (through Sunday) were added.

Surprisingly, the crowd was more attuned to the short-lived and culturally inconsequential Style Council than to the far more significant Jam. So was Weller, for that matter, delivering several of his R&B-inspired; Style Council tunes against only one Jam rave-up--"That’s Entertainment,” with just guitar, bass and drums conspiring to get the fans pumping their fists in the air instead of swaying in the soul breeze.

Weller is without a record deal, but he has an album in the can, and the new songs he played Wednesday were an effective hybrid of his two earlier incarnations: melodically advanced, rhythmically adventurous rock with soul and R&B; elements.

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The six musicians combined power with finesse, and Weller’s voice--a huskier, more impassioned version of Steve Winwood’s--was unfailingly urgent.

Speaking of Winwood, Weller’s current instrumentation (keyboards, percussion, sax and flute alongside his guitar and the rhythm section) is the same as Winwood’s classic band Traffic, some of whose richness has provided a new range in Weller’s music. He confirmed that influence when he played Traffic’s “Feeling Alright” during the encores.

If Weller is showcasing his wares for record companies, this direct, unpretentious and intense performance should make him a popular free agent. Call it the audition of the year.


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