Paolo Nutini, O2 Arena, review: A singer truly on top form

He’s a true soulman, caught up with spirit unfamiliar to his peers

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Paolo Nutini has matured considerably since his debut album These Streets was released in 2006.

Performing at the O2 in London, Nutini’s croonings for “Alloway Grove” and “Diana” are intimate despite the overwhelming size of the arena; the stage set up – filled by a nine-piece band – enhances this with free-standing lights resembling lava lamps for a retro feel and a backdrop flooded with deep red and orange patterns: all very old-school Hollywood.

Material from his older work is surprisingly prominent given that his latest LP – the much-lauded and ambitious Caustic Love, released five years after its predecessor – was such a neat step across from a focus on acoustics and nostalgia into a more muscular funk and soul inspired sound. The singer is on top form tonight – vocals are clear and vivid – while his willingness to engage with fans is interspersed with his becoming utterly immersed in the music.

Nutini’s revision of old material is canny - the audience are thrilled by their favourites while he is able to show off a prowess in transforming tired songs into something that is still relevant. A mash-up of “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty” and “New Shoes” whips the crowd into a frenzy: feet stamp and hands wave in the air while he gestures to the band to keep up.

While he rarely moves around the stage, he is supremely confident when faced by around 15,000 screaming fans: raising a clenched fist to the air to share his triumph with the audience. This and an occasional frailty that recalls the late Amy Winehouse suggests artistry that was not quite so apparent a few years ago.

"These Streets" - a song written when he first came from Scotland to London - is supported by a montage of old film from family holidays. Words that recall how homesick Nutini felt at the time strike home and make his success now seem all the more exciting.

“Iron Sky” challenges and unsettles the audience in a way that Nutini’s previous work has not and showcases an ability to sound far older than his 28 years. He’s a true soulman, caught up with spirit unfamiliar to his peers. Nutini is fully aware of the naivety that comes across in his previous work and is clearly determined to work through it.

“Oh, that's life/ That's dripping down the walls,” he sings as footage of Charlie Chaplin being a buffoon plays across the backdrop; his ferocious speech from The Great Dictator flooding through the crowd.

A brass-led riff of MGMT's “Time To Pretend” is breathtakingly good. Nutini makes the song his own and throws in a wicked sax and heavy drum beats for good measure. Likewise for “Pencil Full Of Lead” with its upped tempo: his sheer talent is astonishing, yet a rictus grin that meets cheers from the crowd suggests that he still doesn’t quite think he deserves it.

He may not win every heart, but we’re certainly lucky to have him around.

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