I get The Jam completely -- Paul Weller's late-'70s proto-mod-punk band garnered insurmountable U.K. fame not through Britain's bizarre hype machine, but the old-fashioned way: excitement, brilliance and more than its fair share of charm. Likewise, the cult status of The Style Council, Weller's '80s pre-emptive strike at acid jazz, makes perfect sense: Euro-centrism never came so cool. But Weller's music always centered on youthful vigor, fashion and the mod's battle cry of "ever forward," tempered by an unabashed '60s -- er -- thing. So throughout the '90s, as the Modfather's output began to match his hair -- graying and thinning -- it stopped making so much sense, and started being a bit too close to the classic rock that serves as Weller's bread-and-butter influence (Townsend, Davies, Lennon, McCartney).
It's at this point that Live at Braehead -- which serves not just as a live video, but as a sort of over-extended greatest-hits for solo-era Paul Weller -- picks up the story. So Live at Braehead is aging and spotty, with moments that soar above even his own towering body of previous work, and moments that sink to the lowest common denominator of arena rock. (And arena-rock this is: Braehead arena in Glasgow holds more than 5,000, and there's nae empty seat in the house.) Perhaps even more of a downer: Whoever edited Live at Braehead has life-threateningly severe ADD, and each shot lasts about two seconds before skipping to the next.
This DVD is of interest to fans for two primary reasons. First, at over two hours, it manages to cram in a best-of double-album's worth of material: the best of Weller's solo material, such as the post-modern blue-eyed soul of "It's Written in the Stars" and "Going Places" from Illumination and the set-ending title song from Wild Wood, but also the worst, like "Bull Rush" and the uninspiring set-opener "A Bullet for Everyone." Second, and more importantly, Braehead finds Weller taking a rare full-band stab at his catalog, doing songs by The Style Council and even The Jam.
Style Council faves like "Down the Seine" are crowd pleasers, but the biggest cheers and group pogos are reserved for the odd Jam tune Weller pulls out -- a body of work he's largely ignored in live sets for two decades. "Man in the Cornershop" sends late-thirtysomething thugs into moments of bliss they've probably not experienced since taking the Vespa to Brighton in 1982 for The Jam's farewell gig. It's odd, however, to hear "Town Called Malice" -- everyone's favorite Jam song -- sung in that original voice, yet done so half-heartedly. Not only is Weller's guitar off rhythm the entire time, the 5,000 mad Scots in attendance seem to know the words and phrasing better than its author.
Weller fans are compulsive, so they already own this. Non-completists may not have much use for 128 minutes of Paul Weller and band. And no one will become a fan based on this cut-and-run job. But throughout Live at Braehead, Paul Weller shows signs of still having the well of talent that once made him the Prime Minister of youthful Britain. Just not quite often enough.