Paolo Nutini: life as soulful fodder

In reading past interviews, the thing that intrigued me most about Paolo Nutini was his mention of the item he cherished most, a wooden rocking horse handmade for him by his grandfather. My intention was to learn to whittle, fashion a miniature wooden horse, and hand it to the young powerhouse-of-tune after watching him perform a stellar set. Obviously, that was the least I could do for the man who released albums that single-handedly helped ease me into my relationships, through their subsequent break-ups, and back out into society.

I didn’t learn to whittle. No miniature figurine on hand that night. Suppose I was preoccupied. However, I was nearly front row. And, as he belted out those tunes…from the past unto the present, chills shot down my spine as though there were a ghost in the room.

We’d ventured six hours by car for this, stopping only for gas and sustenance. Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse was at full capacity, the security guard danced alongside the crowd in between her fun-loving reminders to leave room for the emergency exit row, cordoned off by white tape. There were solid fans… and their intoxicated boyfriends. Age wasn’t a factor, as miniature housewives and robust businessmen alike filled the venue, a space well-suited for his intimate set. Each seat allowed a full view of the ample stage…a full view, that is, unless you were placed behind the kid inducing whiplash, who almost knocked his whole damn head into the delicate face of the patron behind him. The stage itself was filled with equipment and an art-filled backdrop, nothing more.

As Nutini and The Vipers took the stage I saw women fawning, men lending a sly side-eye. I heard yelps, coughs, and all out war cries as he sauntered up to the mic like a back-alley miscreant. And the miscreant, he was confident…opening up his three hour set with, “Scream (Funk My Life Up),” and, “Let Me Down Easy,” songs from his critically acclaimed album, Caustic Love. He’d render all of those songs delirious by night’s end. They were inspired, energetic and evolved, a soulful retreat from the dance-tunes on the stereo that recalled Motown and funk at their finest.

Entwined in the bevy of new tune, were hits from his first albums, sprinkled in to quench a thirsty crowd. “Candy,” “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty,” and, “New Shoes,” playfully reconstructed to keep the audience on their toes. He also belted out an amazing cover of the Etta James classic, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and delved into a cheeky,”Ode To Cunnilingus,” which he sung after he realized he’d given the audience false hopes of more songs added to the encore, those pesky venue regulations.

Nutini put in work throughout the set, toying with emotions on high and dabbling around with a little audience interaction while sweat streamed down his face. The Vipers played in step and backing vocals soared, lending immense talent behind an already strong performance. A performance that could escort you into the throws of passion and afterwards, carry you gently to the nearest discotheque. He’s a mild badass, if you will. His extreme lust for his craft, paramount and witnessed ten-fold that night in Atlanta, all the way through the double encore which included an emblazoned rendition of, “Iron Sky.”

I was only elbowed twice and bumped into a hand full of times. A feat of stealth maneuvering appointed me the patience to tend to these annoyances with grace, but that’s only because there truly was no other way. Folks tried to scurry in late to the front of the stage, no such luck. We held tight and our security guard friend made certain those rascals were demoted to the back of the line.

In summation…it’s easy to underestimate a pop act. Be it the perception that the lyrics are store-bought, that there’ll be a heavy hand on the auto-tune. Then, there’s the notion that the live performance will be overly staged and insincere. However it is that you’ve convinced yourself that pop music is the wrecking ball of our culture, take a knee. Nutini, with his introspective and evolving repertoire, possesses a voice that needs very little tinkering. And the growth he’s shown to date is an indicator of an artist opening up to his craft.

You can listen to his record, watch his videos online…but if you truly want to experience Nutini at the very top of his game just buy the ticket, and take the damn ride!

Opening Act: Phox (they were so outstanding they’ll get a separate write-up)

An ode to backing band, The Vipers: Donny Little, Mick McDaid, Dave Nelson, Gavin Fitzjohn, Ben Edwards, Tom Pinder, John Tilley, Jay Sikora, and Janet Ramus.

 -Holly Jones, editor, OnTour Magazine

-Photo Credit: Holly Jones