Paolo Nutini, Hammersmith Apollo, London
On the sunny side of the beat
Monday 05 October 2009
He has already shown he can impress an older generation, by opening for both the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, now the son of a Paisley chip-shop owner is wowing a younger generation on this sizeable headline tour.
Screeching from close to the stage is almost as impressive as Paolo Nutini's gravelled, old-man voice. Let us call them Nuteenies, the predominantly female contingent that swoon whenever their hero raises up an extra notch his occasionally histrionic delivery. Not that the solo artist is gearing up to be another Marti Pellow. As his second album shows, Nutini takes his craft very seriously indeed.
Since he debuted in 2006 with the ho-hum, James Blunt-cloning These Streets, its little boy lost has matured enough to take the whip hand over recording its follow up. Sunny Side Up is a tribute to the furthest reaches of black music's influence on rock'n'roll, country and folk. It is an ambitious challenge that Nutini does well to almost pull off. Live, his mumbling and precarious stoop might suggest to some he has arrived half-cut, though knowing nods to the crowd and an easy rapport with backing band the Vipers, now augmented with a brass section, suggest he is sharp as a pin.
His distinctive, oft-derided vocal style remains, though – the one that brings to mind Vic Reeves's club singer covering Van Morrison. Nutini is gradually finding his own lyrical stance and sometimes has the sense to let his words breathe. This happens most effectively on "Worried Man", his country-inflected ode to a subject struggling to keep up with a fast-changing world, a suggestion that the singer still has his own feet on the ground. Elsewhere, he is happy to contend with a pared-back accompaniment, most pleasingly on "High Hopes" with ukulele and harmonica.
Vocal embellishments tend to overpower more romantic numbers. Here, Nutini crashes into every cliché going, whether clumsy invitations to "get down and dirty" or his cod lover-man emoting. When he fools himself into thinking his billets-doux deserve such reverence, the Vipers step in. Not content to bask in his reflected glory, they are keen instead to enjoy themselves just as much. The group are to the fore from the brisk, brass-led ska of opening number "10/10" and help rough up earlier material to create a seamless whole, notably on break-up song "Alloway Road", which now comes with the needle of petty humiliation.
Covers are liberally strewn throughout the set, including a jaunty version of the Coasters' "Down in Mexico", which works better than Nutini's own dopey update on "Love Potion No. 9". "Funky Cigarette" suggests he has been spending too much time with Dundonian reprobates the View. Later, fidgety moments on Love's "Alone Again Or" betray a lack of confidence. Then again, the 22-year-old slavishly follows the original enough to suggest he is unsure what to add to the song of himself. At least he is heading in the right direction.
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