tue 11/08/2020

Paolo Nutini, O2 Arena | reviews, news & interviews

Paolo Nutini, O2 Arena

Paolo Nutini, O2 Arena

Newly soulful singer shows his voice at its theatrical best

He do the Police in different voices: a great ventriloquist, but is he more besides?

With his new soul-inflected rasp, there aren’t many singers better equipped to perform through a bout of tonsillitis than Paolo Nutini. (Tom Waits won’t, alas, be selling out the O2.) Last night’s gig was re-scheduled from November when the infection struck. It was postponed even longer than expected for the members of the audience arriving on the broken-down Jubilee line.  

Add in a miserable day, with grenades of drizzle flung across the North Greenwich peninsula, and it was going to take a remarkable feat of showmanship to re-heat the audience. Fortunately, that’s just what we got. The cute backstory in dad’s Paisley chippie can sometimes present Nutini in a sentimental way, but there was authentic rock and roll passion about the way he attacked the microphone, squatting over it and gnawing at it like a vicious, straggling insect.

It all worked, the incongruity of his original Scottish and newly American singing accents notwithstanding

The songs came first from the 2006 album These Streets, representing Nutini the sweet balladeer, with songs like “Alloway Grove”, “New Shoes”, and the title song, full of open-hearted yearning. “Pencil Full of Lead”, from 2009's Sunny Side Up, was a particular hit with the women in the audience, and saw Nutini jump down from the stage and sing at his most grindingly passionate. There’s a more streetwise mood to this album than his first, with the early stages of the soul influence that characterises Caustic Love so strongly, but the sentiment is still mostly warm. Caustic Love, last year’s third studio album, was best represented. It still has its sweetness, in “Looking for Something”, about his mother and the motivational “Better Man”, though they’re outweighed by darkness and sorrow.

Nutini’s arrangements chart a similarly drastic shift in character, from the simple acoustic accompaniment of “These Streets” to the raw, brassy blast and pealing guitars of “Cherry Blossom” and “Iron Sky”. Yet it all worked, the incongruity of his original Scottish and newly American singing accents notwithstanding. He’s young enough to give the doe-eyed songs conviction, but the conflicts that create the bleakness of, for example, “My lil' cherry blossom, Just like a crow, it cut my throat” also feel authentic, and were performed compellingly live. Perhaps, to garner the cult cred that his contemporary Amy Winehouse had in buckets, he would be better advised to plough a distinctive generic furrow for a little longer. Iconic singers – Waits, Dylan, Piaf, and so on – usually have an original and immediately recognisable musical point of view. Nutini still feels a little too much like a ventriloquist.

But what a great one. His voice has become a superb instrument, taking in Michael Stipe at one end and Otis Redding at the other. From the tenderest, choking teen love to the bitterest disillusion, he conveys it with galvanic flair, and there’s not too much more an audience can ask.

From the tenderest, choking teen love to the bitterest disillusion, he conveys it with galvanic flair

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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