Gig review: Paolo Nutini @ Manchester Phones 4U Arena

As Paolo Nutini slumped to his knees in front of his adoring fans, vocally and emotionally drained from a stunning two hour set, he could find only one phrase to truly evoke his feelings: “It’s been real”.

He wasn’t wrong.

The last stop on a blockbuster UK tour, which has already seen Newcastle, Sheffield, Glasgow, London, Belfast, Dublin and Birmingham all embrace the Glaswegian’s enigmatic charm, the 20,000 or so people packed into Manchester’s Phones 4u Arena were treated to a show that no one will forget in a hurry.

In the five year gap between second album Sunny Side Up and his most recent instalment, Caustic Love, Nutini has grown beyond recognition.

He is now more than the stunningly talented vocalist he always was; he is a showman, capable of commanding even the most challenging of spaces with seeming ease.

Backed by a veritable orchestra, Nutini opened the show with a dynamic rendition of one of his more recent singles, Scream (Funk My Life Up).

Soul oozed from the stage, enrapturing anyone in its way. From that point on, the audience were sold, and so, it seems, was Paolo.

As he progressed through his eclectic back catalogue of hits, including an angst-ridden, guitar heavy version of Jenny Don’t Be Hasty, one of the songs that first made him a star, there was a growing feeling that those in attendance were watching something genuinely special.

The key to Nutini’s success, and particularly the majesty of his live shows, is the effortlessness he displays. Cocksure yet humble, atmospheric but intimate, nothing Nutini did seemed like a stretch.

Even when he stripped himself of his backing musicians, Nutini remained utterly in control. After a tribute to his home town of Paisley, his acoustic version of These Streets proved to be a true high point in the evening.

Working through a well crafted set list, even the inevitable lulls as people went to the toilet and refreshed their pints, were brushed aside without worry.

He constantly kept the audience guessing, changing up the tempo of his performance from song to song, as he went from the epic, romantic No Other Way, to the politically charged Iron Sky, one of the songs of the year thus far.

Despite leaving the stage to rapturous applause after his performance of Iron Sky, there was time yet for one or two treats from the 27-year-old.

Five years to the day since he visited Radio One’s Live Lounge for a special performance, Nutini rolled back the years, treating his fans to a stunning cover of MGMT’s Time to Pretend.

As the trumpets, saxophones and trombones reached a crescendo so too did the audience, a standing ovation engulfing the arena to the obvious joy of Nutini.

Choosing to wind down with the heart-wrenching Last Request, those present echoed every word in unison with the Scottish troubadour, a fitting climax to a rollercoaster couple of hours.

Nutini’s performance was that of a man truly in charge of his craft. 

Image courtesy of Phil Richards, with thanks.

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