Paolo Nutini at the O2

This post is serving a few purposes: 1) it’s a Part 2 to my article Date Nights for One ; 2) it’s a (very amateur) review of the concert, basically just listing all the things I liked about it; and 3) it’s a review of a review of the gig in The Guardian, which was almost completely made up of bullshit, and also a reminder that sexism most definitely works both ways.

A few months ago I posted a piece on how much I enjoy going out for “dates” by myself – to restaurants, to the theatre, and especially to the cinema (I’ve been to the cinema alone five times in the last two weeks, and it’s been brilliant). I also said I’d booked myself a solo ticket to see Paolo Nutini at the O2, which would be the first time I’d been to a concert alone, and it was all a bit of an experiment. Well, it was awesome. I loved it. Going alone meant I didn’t have to worry about whether other people had a view, or whether they were being stepped on, or hold their drinks interminably while they went to the bathroom. It was just me, enjoying some of the best music I’ve ever heard.

There were other advantages too. Travelling to the O2 was a shambles, taking a convoluted route and an hour longer than it was supposed to. It was a very tedious experience but one I began to strangely enjoy, once an excellent member of Underground staff suggested an alternative route to the back end of beyond otherwise known as North Greenwich. Once on the train substitute, I was next to a couple who were also trying to get somewhere but had been delayed and were going to be late. They’d reached the point where just the sight of the other person was an irritation, and all she could say to him was: “Shut up. Just shut up.” Haha. I know that kind of stress. You’d think being with someone else would be a rock and a comfort in those situations, but actually I found myself an excellent support, and didn’t need to tell myself to shut up once. I didn’t need to argue with anyone over the right route, or put up with residual grumpiness when we arrived. I could get on with being bloody excited that I’d got there at all (and, because Paolo Nutini is a sweetie, he’d delayed the start and I didn’t miss anything. Sure, I was further back than I’d wanted in the standing area, but – another plus to being alone – if you start shouldering your way through people on your own, they assume you’re on your way to join your party of friends. Hahaha).

The concert itself was phenomenal. I booked my ticket at vast expense from one of these selling-on tickets websites, after I saw a clip of Paolo Nutini playing at Glastonbury and decided I just had to go, even if I didn’t have anybody to go with. He isn’t one of those artists who plays songs exactly as they sound on the recordings only louder. For many of his older songs, heputs a twist on it. He played ‘Jenny don’t be hasty’ much slower than normal, with a different beat, so I didn’t realise it was the same song until I recognised the lyrics. ‘Pencil full of Lead’ was not as we know it. It made it a unique experience, hearing these songs in ways that you hadn’t heard them before, and might not again.

He is generally an exceptionally good live singer. Many of his songs are full of passion and angst, and all that came across a thousand-fold live. His latest album has a lot of very soulful, bluesy tracks which were wonderfully intense and evocative in the flesh. The whole crowd were completely swept up, and he knew it too – he kept thanking us all for being there and applauding us when we applauded him. Apparently it’s the biggest gig he’s ever played and he said when he came on that he was ‘a little overwhelmed,’ but you’d never have guessed. Especially with the way he chose to end the concert. I assumed it was over because we’d already had one encore and the rest of the (excellent) band had already left the stage, after much bowing and applause. But then Paolo turned back and picked up his guitar, and asked if we had time for one or two more. Er, obviously. Even if it meant another five trains and seven buses to get home. So he ended with two acoustic guitar performances, finishing with the never-endingly excellent Last Request. I’ve been listening to his albums all week since, and I just don’t get tired of these songs. His lyrics are absolutely beautiful.

So there is my very amateur review. In fact I think review is a stretch, it’s just a list of adjectives. But not once have I mentioned how he looked or how he was dressed, or the division of genders making up the crowd. I don’t personally see why they are relevant, but this woman writing for The Guardian disagrees, not touching on his performance so much as his good looks and the fact the audience was predominantly female. Apparently there was a ‘predictably hormonal’ response when he announced that one particular song was written for his mother – I actually thought the shrieking at that was fairly restrained. But she accuses him of ‘knowing what strings to pull,’ which you wouldn’t do if you were talking about someone who was ugly. And I think any artist announcing that a song is dedicated to their mother would get some vocal support.

I mean, obviously, the fact he is very attractive has an effect on the audience. But it doesn’t have an effect on the performance he’s giving, or the music he writes, and that is what she is supposed to be reviewing. I find it particularly annoying in this case because it’s often struck me how little Paolo Nutini uses his looks to sell his records. Look at his album covers. These Streets: vague, black and white pictures where you can barely tell who it is. Sunny Side Up: a cartoon-type drawing which bears a passing resemblance to him at best. And Caustic Love: another drawing making him look almost more animal than man. Why does she feel the need to bring his looks into it at every turn? If a male reviewer did that with a female artist, everyone would shout sexism.

Her conclusion was also stupid: that she can’t tell what he’s like as a person because he uses a lot of different musical and vocal styles in his performance, and therefore ‘Perhaps it’s better to enjoy him without asking too many questions.’ To me, the fact that there are such differences between his songs and even between different versions of the same song is what makes him such a remarkable artist, particularly to see live. Would she rather he sang the same type of song over and over for two hours? I get the impression that she has an idea of what he should be like, based on his general looks, and now he’s not really following the stereotype and she doesn’t know how to deal with it. It makes for a very irritating review which glosses over most of the best points about the concert. If any of you read it and thought, ‘Ugh. This Nutini guy sounds like a bit of a prat, having all these women just fawning all over him and mixing up too many different types of song and style in one concert. I think I’ll give it a miss,’ please ignore it. If you like his songs at all, go and see him live. I’ll be buying a ticket as soon as they’re released next time. If any of you want to come too, let’s go! But maybe we should travel there separately.

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