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By Chris Chafin
Some time around Thanksgiving, the announcement came down from the punk-pop heavens. Paul Wellerfertile genius behind the Jam (a truly once-in-a-lifetime amalgamation of Brit-centric fury without fear of melody or musicianship), the Style Council (a commercial-leaning journey of white boy soul through the influence of Motown), and an ongoing solo career (bring back the guitars, boys, but save the acerbics for the lyric sheet)would take the stage at Irving Plaza for the last three nights in January. To celebrate the release of the career-spanning four-disc box set Hit Parade that will appear the week before, one night of Weller's mini-residency would highlight the Jam, one night the Style Council, and one night his solo work.
Tickets for all three shows sold out in less than five minutes. On eBay, Style Council and solo night admissions have been resold in the $250 to $400 range. Add another 25 percent premium for Jam night, making it the most in-demand concert ticket since the Stones played Bill Clinton's birthday bash at the Beacon last summer.
And yet, ironically enough, during the Modfather's last business-related Stateside visit less than two years ago, more than a few shows were cancelleddue to poor ticket sales.
So what's causing all this recent ruckus?
"Perhaps I've just reached that grand old age, eh?" Weller suggests from his home in England. Perhaps so. With the passing of James Brown and Tom Petty's recent denials of impending retirement, perhaps what becomes a legend most is the prospect that he might one day walk away. And yet no one really retires from the job of rock starhow many farewell tours have the Who launched? And if the Stones have taught us anything, it's that the rock 'n' roll lifestyle can be stretched ad infinitum.
But make no mistake, even without threatening to abandon us forever, Paul Weller is already a legend. At least in Britain. Count as testament the Hit Parade box, a chronological and almost mathematical account of his astounding 64 British singles. Or last year's reception of the Brit Awardsomething akin to a Lifetime Achievement Awardfor Outstanding Contribution to British Music. Pretty impressive for an artist who has not so much as sniffed a gold record, in any of his three incarnations, stateside.
And yet 30 years into a professional music career, Weller's not yet turned 50. When the Jam's debut, In The City, was released in 1977, the young mod was but a tender 18. And Paul Weller's not going anywhere. At least he hopes not. "It's quite the opposite really," he says. "I mean, we just come off a U.K. tour last week which was just amazing. We had some of the best gigs we've ever played, so for me it's still very relevant and still fresh, you know. I mean, it's hard for me to sort of relate to the fact that 30 years have gone by since I made me first record. It's a fucking blink of an eye to me."
So what is causing all the scalper fuss now? Sure, Irving Plaza isn't exactly cavernoustri-state Brit ex-pats alone could easily fill the place 10 times overbut a sellout, and a hardsellout, is still a sellout. So attribute at least some of the demand to the Jam night/Style Council night/solo night setup, which affords us the opportunity of perhaps the world's first Jam reunion, albeit without the rest of the Jam. In any case, with three consecutive shows covering three consecutive eras, Weller and his band have what sounds like a significant amount of material to rehearse. Which may be news to Paul Weller.
"It's a bit of a challenge," he says, "to play some tunes we haven't played forever, or for a long time anyway. I mean, it's not like each night's going to be exclusively Jam and Style Council. We're going to play more songs than we normally play, but it'll still be a mixture of things."
Uh oh. Maybe Jam night won't be as pure as you might assume. But however this holy trinity of anticipated performances goes down, know that none of thisnot the boxed set, not the linked concertswas Paul Weller's doing. "None of them were my idea," he says. "If it doesn't work out, it's not my idea."
Paul Weller plays Irving Plaza January 2931. Tickets are sold out as all hell and going on the black market for what the author refers to as "nasty money," eBay.com