Paolo Nutini, Royal Albert Hall, London
Cranes, Jazz Café, London
He's vain, sings reggae like Sting and has terrible posture. But just try telling that to the ladies...
Sunday 11 April 2010
There are no words for Paolo Nutini, only sounds. Mention his name to women, and it's "phwoaar". Mention him to men and it's "meh".
OK, perhaps that divide is exaggerated, and you don't become Britain's biggest-selling male artist of the year by limiting your appeal to one gender, but the Paisley-reared singer's Italo-Caledonian looks certainly don't do him any harm. And boy, does he milk it.
His walk-on song is "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" by Andy Williams, inviting the entire Albert Hall to tell him he's just too good to be true, he feels like heaven to touch and so on, until – bang on the big "I love you baby!" moment – he saunters into view on a snakeskin-patterned stage.
I say "saunters", but it's more like "crawls", in the odd hunchbacked gait the 23-year-old maintains for the entire show, asif he's permanently dying for the toilet. If Paolo Nutini has a genuine spinal condition that Wiki omits to mention, I apologise. If not, would it kill him to stand up straight? At least Ian Dury had an excuse.
Nutini has moved on from the singer-songwriter stylings of his debut and that bloody awful "New Shoes" single, and the newer Sunny Side Up material consists largely of ragtime-reggae and skiffle-ska, played by a band of Disney Aristocats in human form, all trilbies, trumpets and waistcoats. And people love it. Admittedly very square people, but square people have feelings, votes and credit cards too.
Paolo Nutini is a man of two voices. The first is the most offensive "Jamaican" accent this side of Sting. I keep worrying he's only seconds away from blacking up and launching into "Dem Bones". The second is a weird, angry Scottish rasp, as if he's channelling the late (and sensational) Alex Harvey. The former is unleashed most noticeably on a cover of John Holt's "Riding For A Fall", the latter on the Woody Guthrie folk standard "Worried Man Blues".
The Scot's own compositions tend to the unsubtle, with barely-encoded references to smoking funky cigarettes and riding his big trampoline, which elicits lust-choked gasps of "I love you" from the cheap seats. Phwoaar, says half the hall. Meh, say I.
Twin roses in her tousled hair, and barely wider than a flower stem herself, Alison Shaw is unchanged and unchanging, as Cranes make one of their infrequent returns to the stage at, of all places, the Jazz Café. Cranes being, after all, one of the least jazzy bands imaginable.
Emerging from chronically uncool Portsmouth at the cusp of the 1990s, the duo of Shaw and her brother Jim were a dark reproach to the frivolity of the Madchester and Britpop years, their music a quiet but insistent clarion call to solitude and seriousness.
Taking their name from a David Leavitt story-within-a-story about an abandoned child who emulates the construction cranes he can see from his bedroom window, the duo of Alison and Jim drew on Siouxsie and the Banshees' orchestral phase circa Hyaena and the etherealism of early Cocteau Twins, to create an unsettling sound – gothic but, crucially, never Goth – which earned the patronage of The Cure (who adopted them as support band by royal appointment to Robert Smith), and which prefigured the womb-beat of Massive Attack.
In later years a lightness and liquidity entered Cranes' music, like the tinkling of arctic meltwater in summer, and it's that phase – rather than early terrors like "Starblood" or "Focus Breathe" – which dominates tonight's show.
What remains is Alison Shaw's extraordinary lady-in-the-radiator voice, the helium tones of a small child emanating from the body of a woman who must, by now, be into her forties, hinting as ever at the same inner tumult as, an ocean away, did Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh. It's enchantingly delicate, peculiarly pretty and, strangest of all, it suggests another unexpected interpretation of the band's name: I never imagined I'd say this, but Cranes are uplifting.
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