Paolo Nutini - Wolverhampton Civic Hall
Props to Pam. This gig reviewer has sometimes turned his nose up at his mother's music tastes, despite her having lived through the glory-era decades of the '60s, '70s and '80s (although, she frequently tells me she doesn't care for the music of the '80s because she was too busy changing nappies and such). Although she was a Bolan fan and reared me on great soul records, Mommy McNaney is also partial to the James Blunts of the world like many madres her age. Sometimes though, when it comes to new talent, she's bang on the money - such is the case with Paolo Nutini.
Although his first record was a bit bland for my too-cool-for-school ears back in 2006, sophomore release Sunny Side Up made me sit up and take notice. I treated Pam to a Paolo show at Wolverhampton's Wulfrun Hall back in 2010, under the guise of 'dutiful son' but curious to hear the Scots soul singer/songwriter in action. He didn't disappoint and, four years later, I accompany my mother - on the eve of her birthday for maximum brownie points - to a sold-out show at Wolves Civic Hall, where Nutini has graduated to main stage in support of his new album Caustic Love. The fact it's Friday night means the mixed crowd are on side and energetic throughout, but on any day of the week this would have been a belter.
Unsurprisingly, the show is top-heavy with cuts from his third album but only those holding on to the middle-of-the-road balladry of 'Rewind' will be bothered by the new direction. Caustic Love's blend of souped-up soul and rootsy folk/rock is a winner, and in the live arena it wins even further favour with the skilled backing players and Nutini's unbridled vocal taking it to the next level. 'Scream (Funk My Life Up)' is a suitably funky warm-up but the slow-build likes of 'Better Man', 'Cherry Blossom' and personal fave 'Looking for Something' (as good a song as I've heard all year) really give Nutini the chance to let fly. Meanwhile, the slinky neo-soul of 'Let Me Down Easy' and 'One Day' are sonic successors to Winehouse's Back to Black, and 'Diana' is a moody marvel that marks the midway point of the show and has the multiple moms in attendance looking a tad confused.
Of course, there are some oldies and out-and-out hits thrown into the mix, as well as a surprise cover of fellow Scots' Chvrches electro-pop single 'Recover' which is given a stripped, husky rendering by Nutini. The 'I Wanna Be Like You' swing of 'Pencil Full of Lead' is completely missing from the new rendition, which gives it a psychedelic makeover and disappoints Pam who couldn't have a little dance to this new version, but 'Coming Up Easy' is left well alone and rouses with its "It was in love I was created and in love is how I hope I die" final stretch. While the encore is where the fans will be treated to more big hit singles, Nutini is amiable throughout and has the crowd hanging on every mumbled gratitude before leading into the next song.
Much of the pre-release hype surrounding Caustic Love surrounded 'Iron Sky'; it is a big song, a bit earnest mind, but a great pre-encore closer that you get the feeling will be closing his shows for years to come. When Nutini returns for his final songs, the crowd embrace their chance to hear some favourites and he does not disappoint. 'Jenny Don't Be Hasty' has evolved into a more appealing beast, rockier and more muscular than its recorded version, and a cheer goes round the room when it morphs into 'New Shoes'. A last-dance pairing of 'Candy' with band and a triumphant solo 'Last Request', with Nutini strumming his guitar, feels like a big ol' thank you to all the moms who got hooked eight years ago and thereby granted him the success to grow into the artist he is today - and, in turn, allowed their sons and daughters to grow into being fully-fledged fans. Thanks Paolo. Thanks Pam.