The anti-war benefit concert known as the Big One had a talent roster to live up to its name. The Style Council appeared between the brassy R&B of Ian Dury and Mari Wilson, and the rousing anthems of U2 — and following two acts of skits and monologues, both of which ended with two-song solo sets by Elvis Costello.
Where Costello exuded purpose and confidence, however, Councilperson Paul Weller stumbled from one song to the next, apparently wondering what he was doing there in the first place. He seemed more concerned with looking cool while getting rid of his chewing gum than establishing a rapport with the audience.
The "band" — Weller, keyboard cohort Mick Talbot and an overbearing backing tape — played mostly boppy pop like the acoustic-based "Headstart for Happiness." The closest Style Council got to an anthem was the funky "Money-Go-Round," attacking all of capitalism. If not exactly appropriate to the occasion, at least it was a protest.
Most of the songs weren't identified. Neither was the talented young back-up singer who delivered her vocals with twice as much conviction as Weller, and a dreadlocked rapper who made a valiant attempt at rousing the crowd while Weller slapped a bass.
But the person who finally reeled in Style Council needed no introduction: Costello stepped onstage during the finale of "My Ever Changing Moods" to bring it all home. For that short moment Weller and Talbot had purpose — if only to play back-up. Glancing at Costello, Weller sang like he meant it for the first time in the set.
Most of the audience, if they cared at all, forgave and forgot when U2 took the stage minutes later. And, to their credit, the Style Council did pull off a decent show. But perhaps Weller and Talbot should stick to ripping off Motown licks, and leave rabble-rousing to the heavyweights.