Concert review: Without Winehouse, Scottish soul star earns headline slot

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 2, 2007 - 9:06 AM

CONCERT REVIEW: Despite closed-eye shyness, Paolo Nutini seduces with his blue-eyed soulfulness.

Consider it something of a consolation prize.

Music lovers are still whining about the cancellation of the fall's most-coveted concert, Amy Winehouse, 2007's most-talked-about newcomer. Instead, Paolo Nutini, her scheduled opening act and another young star from the United Kingdom, got to headline his own show Monday night before a full house at the Fitzgerald Theater.

It was a winning concert that was as odd in many ways as Winehouse's Minneapolis debut in May at the Varsity Theater.

Like Winehouse, Nutini is an unconventional soul singer. While she updates Dusty Springfield and Stax Records, he channels Van Morrison and Otis Redding; both newcomers seem fresh and original.

Winehouse and Nutini are highly affected performers but in different ways. With her oversized beehive, Cleopatra eye makeup and sailor-like tattoos, the hard-partying, unstable Winehouse, 23, is a downright exhibitionist onstage. By contrast, Nutini, 20, was hopelessly introverted at the Fitzgerald.

With his vintage Jon Bon Jovi-like helmet of hair covering much of his face, he sang the entire 75-minute set with his eyes closed. In fact, he looked up at the crowd maybe only twice between songs. With a gleeful grin on his face even when he sang sad lyrics, Nutini had a stage manner oddly reminiscent of Tiny Tim's. He also evoked visions of Joe Cocker as he got lost in his vocal riffing, rolling his r's with a Scottish brogue, oblivious to the audience.

The audience adored Nutini even if he said little between songs. When he did speak, his voice was so soft and his accent so thick, who knew what he said? His style was blissfully romantic, both in his lyrics and his sweet, boy-next-door seductiveness. His elastic, quavery voice had an easy, moaning soulfulness that belied his youth and likely inexperience.

Backed by bass, drums and guitar, Nutini managed to vary the textures and dynamics of his sound. He played eight of the 10 tunes from his debut disc, "These Streets," which earned him the 2007 Brit Award for best male solo artist and an opening slot for the Rolling Stones at the Isle of Wight. He also offered eight new tunes, including a cover of the 1969 Nilsson hit "Everybody's Talkin'."

Among the highlights were the jazzy, Brazilian-tinged "Running on Empty," the loud, rocking spiritual-like "Trouble So Hard," the cuddly hit "Last Request," the acoustic R&B seduction "Loving You," the eerily beautiful "Northern Skies" and the country hoedown "Funky Cigarette."

In the end, Nutini didn't need Winehouse and her potential train wreck. He clearly asserted his bona fides to be a headliner. But he does have one pending warmup gig -- opening for the Led Zeppelin reunion Nov. 26 in London.

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719

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