REVIEW: Paolo Nutini w/ Phox @ Marathon Music Works

Paolo Nutini
w/ Phox
Marathon Music Works; Nashville, TN
October 6, 2014

Review by Philip Obenschain (@pobenschain). Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.

For the first time in five years, Scottish soul sensation Paolo Nutini made his way to Music City, in support of his fantastic third album, Caustic Love. And, if that weren’t enough, Wisconsin’s Phox, a band we’ve been obsessing over since first discovering them late last year, and whose eponymous debut album seems destined to catapult them to superstardom, were tapped to open. Of course, after telling you about the show for weeks, we were there to take it all in. Read on for a recap of the fun night, and take a look at some wonderful photos from the performance!


No Country has been repping Phox since they first came onto our radar last fall, landing an opening spot for one of our favorite acts, Blitzen Trapper, at Mercy Lounge. And, while I personally was not in attendance at that outing, I distinctly remember spinning their tunes ahead of it, and falling immediately in love with their folky, indie pop sound and the haunting, breathtaking vocals of frontwoman Monica Martin. Circumstance led me to miss their recent headlining Nashville date as well, though the amount of buzz surrounding it made me all the more eager and determined to check them out this time around; in fact, they were an even greater pull for me than Paolo, and, undoubtedly, managed to exceed my lofty expectations.

While I love the space, the sound in Marathon Music Works can sometimes be tricky, especially for bands that are very loud or very quiet. Fortunately, Phox fall somewhere in the middle, and their dense, precise, and endlessly melodic sound filled the room with a pleasantness and a captivating quality few bands who have graced the Marathon stage can boast. Quickly blazing through selections from their debut album, the group played a near-perfect set, despite the fact that there seemed to be some disconnect between their audience and the hardcore Paolo Nutini fans (read: college-y fan girls and young professionals, rather than the hipper, indie blogosphere crowd that Phox would likely best appeal to). In fact, my only gripe is that they didn’t play longer, and that I couldn’t make my way closer, but I’ll take what I can get. Phox are, unequivocally, one of the best new artists making music today, and all signs point to their continued and expedited growth; check them out while you can still see them in small spaces, because that won’t be the case for long.

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Austin City Limits Festival 2014

Paolo Nutini Meets Fans, Talks ‘Caustic Love’ & Influences at Austin City Limits

Mark Sundstrom, October 5, 2014

Fuse chats with fans of the Scottish soul-pop singer at his ACL Fest autograph signing, then talk to the man himself about his latest album and being compared to legends

On location at the Waterloo Autograph Tent at Austin City Limits Fest, Esteban Serrano caught up with not just UK soul-pop star Paolo Nutini, but his biggest fans, too!

We found out exactly why a few of Paolo’s fans were so excited to meet the singer, including one couple who say they have his music to thank for their initial spark. “The first songs he played on the guitar for me were Paolo songs,” one fan told us while looking at her boyfriend. Another fan first saw Nutini at ACL in 2007 and has been waiting for his return. “His voice is just so sexy!”

Excited to meet his fans, Nutini confided to Fuse before the signing, “You just hope people are gonna’ turn up.” And turn up they did. Before signing countless autographs, the singer explained the title and theme of his Caustic Love album, which dropped earlier this year. “Human on human love, romantic love – It can wash over all your defense mechanisms and leave you vulnerable,” says Nutini.

As an admirere in line to meet Paolo told us, it’s the singer’s deep, soulful (and sexy) voice that draws in fans, so we wanted to know who his musical influences were. “The first thing I put on… was my grandfather’s Drifters records. When I was about 5 years old, I put the needle on the vinyl and on came Ben E. King,” says Nutini. “It was all the old Stax [records], all the old Motown, all these five-part vocal groups; [The] Coasters, [The] Flamingos, [The] Platters – It was what I liked!”

Considering his influences, it’s no wonder Paolo’s soulful, bluesy voice is often compared to music legends of the past. Paolo is flattered but a bit apprehensive saying, “You can never live up to that, you know? You just take it with a pinch of salt.”

Paolo Nutini goes full-on church

Scottish singer Paolo Nutini performs on the Samsung Galaxy Stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. TINA PHAN / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

There are plenty of reasons to envy Paolo “New Shoes” Nutini, but playing with the Texas sun as a spotlight — even on an abnormally mild ACL Fest Friday — can’t be easy. Still, face to face with fiery solar fury, Nutini mangaed to shine, playing inoffensive soulful pop made to be filed somewhere between Motown and Jack Johnson. The Scottish singer pens the type of fest-friendly fare all but guaranteed to satisfy old and young, and the guy can obviously sing. Even in less than ideal conditions, Nutini’s vocals impressed. But the set wasn’t without its duller moments.

The bad: The jammy, sprawling takes on some songs seemed to overstay their welcome, especially on slower tunes where he occasionally lost the crowd’s full attention.

The good: When things went full-on church, with gospel-schooled rock, backing brass from the band and Nutini getting all soulful and on the verge of screaming — drenched in sweat, shirt all-but-entirely unbuttoned and craddling the microphone — it was like a whole different show. In those moments, Nutini turned the crowd’s attention away from chitchat and smartphone screens to the main event. See for example the driving build up of “Pencil Full of Lead,” which set the up-front audience swaying until it boiled over into a rare instance of day dancing.

Nutini’s set marked the first sign I saw today of that real festival crowd sprawl, where the previously divided layers of crowd start to merge. Diehards pushed up and hunkered down for the hours-away headliners, standers nearly backed up to chair-bringers, and wise sun-fearing folks took refuge in the shade of fences and trees next to the row of porta-potties — the whole scene seasoned with the smell of “smoke” and sunscreen in the breeze.

Nutini Unveils New Sound at the Wiltern

September 28, 2014

The Wiltern Theater might not have been completely sold out on the evening of Sept. 27, but that didn’t stop Paolo Nutini from giving it his raucous best. The Scottish 27 year old brought a rousing two-hour performance to L.A. concertgoers this past weekend. Though he is perhaps most famous in the States for his upbeat “New Shoes” (with it’s catchy refrain: “I put some new shoes on and suddenly everything is right”) the Paolo Nutini that greeted fans this Saturday seemed to have shelved the chipper sound from his first album, hid away the sophomoric beats from his second and paved way for the entirely new sound of Caustic Love, his third album, which blends soul, pop and alt-rock, peppered with numerous allusions and references. web singer

Opening for Nutini was the Wisconsin-born PHOX — a dreamy, lyrical seven-piece band front-lined by singer Monica Martin, the only woman of the group. Despite the fact that the back of the audience talked through most of PHOX’s set, Martin held her own as her bandmates chimed harmoniously on a keyboard, bass, drums, electric guitars and the occasional (and extremely well-placed) French horn. While crooning out “all this leisure has got me tired,” it became clear the group’s mix of sounds reminiscent of Fleet Foxes, Feist and Grizzly Bear were a far cry from what the audience had paid to watch, yet they provided a well-chosen contrast to the bouncing, clapping, preaching new Nutini they were about to see.

Slinking onto the stage with his characteristically unkempt hair and an untucked white button-down shirt, Nutini was joined by The Vipers, a group with several guitar players, a drummer and a back-up female singer — all of whom Nutini thanked graciously and profusely at the end of the show. Channeling moments of Al Green, Nina Simone, Bob Marley and Rod Stewart, Nutini proved his weight in the variation between his upbeat, crowd-summoning anthems and his romantic, tortured, sorrowful love ballads. “Diana” and “Better Man” seemed to be his most heartfelt and personal songs of the night — both appeared to be about women whom he has both loved and learned from. Yet, Nutini also escaped from the ballad arena to find a moment to sing the beautiful, rasping “Iron Sky” — where he descended into an almost gospel-like sermon about salvation, freedom and life while sampling a speech from Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film The Great Dictator that states: “You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men … You the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful.” As he sang, Nutini crouched down to the ground, recreating someone in pain, and then sprung up as if suddenly consumed with the beauty of living. He continued bouts of these exaggerated movements throughout the show, which was perhaps the only thing off about his entire performance. For several of the songs, he seemed to want to explain exactly what he was singing about. He’d mug a sad face when singing about sadness or point out to the crowd when crooning “you” during his ballads; these moments of literal communication weren’t needed in a show filled with already clear and lyrical yet poetic imagery.

Yet, Nutini’s real adeptness as a performer came in playing with the audience, especially with the females in attendance. After finishing the first up-tempo song of the night called “Scream (Funk My Life Up),” Nutini took a breath and told the audience, “This song is for a special someone in my life.” As women catcalled and screamed in ripples throughout the audience, Nutini raised the mic to his lips, smiled and added, “my mother.” To which, of course, the audience went wild. He then sang “Someone Like You” — a short and sweet song made beautiful by “ooohs” and “ahhhhhs” from The Vipers reminiscent of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons while keeping Nutini’s trained yet appropriately rough Scottish voice ringing clearly at the forefront.

At one point Nutini asked the audience, “Are you sick of new songs?” apparently gauging the fact that his two major hits, “New Shoes” and “These Streets,” were missing from the lineup. Of course, he did revisit some old hits, most notably “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty” and “Pencil Full of Lead,” the former of which was almost unrecognizable in a reworked rendition. Ultimately, the reworked oldies showed Nutini’s great departure from his past. Yet, he still finished the night with the dizzyingly beautiful “Last Request” — a ballad from his first album that plucked the heartstrings of most everyone in the room that night.

Boston – September 19, 2014

Paolo hits the east coast!  … BOSTON, here we come!



What a good day this was to be a Paolo fan!  For me (Celeste), this was an extra special day because in addition to seeing Paolo, for this show, my sister, Colleen, was coming along. After we picked up Mary Anna at the airport, we were off to check into our hotel. Our friend Kelly found the best possible hotel in Boston – The Verb – quite the rock and roll hotel.  It was just a few blocks from the venue which is always a plus!

PicMonkey Collage


After we got settled at the hotel, we headed over to the venue – The House of Blues – to check it out.

The venue was right across the street from Fenway Park! Fun area of Boston, for sure!

boston venue

I’m not a huge fan of the HoB, but it does have something going for it that other venues don’t; if you eat at their restaurant or buy a t-shirt or something in their gift shop, you get to skip the line. Basically, what that means is that you get to stand in another line that gets let in first. I think the cost is minimal for the return, and hey, who doesn’t get hungry/thirsty standing in line?

A Paolo ticket – definitely one of my favorite things!

While at a bar/eatery by the venue, we saw Paolo pass by on his way back from getting coffees.  It’s always fun to see him and the band members out and about before and after the shows.  We just smiled and waved, because really, who wants to get stopped holding a cardboard carrier with coffees in it, right?

Before long, it was time to go to see Paolo play a private set hosted by a local radio station (92.5 The River) at the Foundation Room there at the venue.   He sang Scream, Let Me Down Easy, Someone Like You, Better Man, and Last Request.  It was absolutely sublime.  It was my sister’s first time seeing Paolo perform, and she was completely blown away.  I explained to her that as phenomenal as the performance had been, the best was still yet to come.


Here is our friend Kelly’s video of Better Man from the private performance.  It’s a bit dark, but the room wasn’t lit all that well.  It made for a beautiful afternoon, however.  Wish you all could haven been there.  We’ve seen Paolo in some surreal places, but never in a such a laid-back, casual way.

After that, it was off to the line to wait some more.  Now, I know, waiting in line for hours probably doesn’t sound like fun.  But that’s where you’d be wrong – if you have the right people to wait with, it can be a blast.



And finally… we were in!  The two hours you’re in the venue before Paolo takes the stage?  They are THE longest two hours of your life.  Luckily there’s a bar and friends (old and new – sometimes you meet the most fun people standing next to you!) to keep you company.

waiting for Paolooo
Yes, thank you, House of Blues bar for making the wait a little more enjoyable… ;)

And just when you think you can’t wait anymore… It’s time for the opening act, and in this case it was Phox, a band from Wisconsin.  They were fun, and the lead singer’s voice is just gorgeous.



And then!  PAOLO and the Vipers!

It surprised me how much better Paolo and the guys sounded just from when we’d seen them last in June – and they’d sounded great then.  The band was tight and Paolo’s voice was heavenly.

I found out (a bit too late) that my camera had been dropped or something, because all my pictures from this night came out blurry. These pictures are from our sweet friend Michelle’s collection from that night. She stood in my very favorite spot – in front of Donny.

Here’s Angela’s brilliant video of Looking for Something:

And these next two are Michelle’s.



jay boston
And here is Jay’s (Paolo’s drummer) picture from the stage. Why am I always hiding behind Paolo’s keyboard? It was the same with his NYC picture in June. *sigh*

boston set list
My sister modeling the set list, haha. (Paolo also sang Last Request after Candy.)

It was a great night, as expected! My sister was completely captivated, and said that she will definitely see Paolo again. (I wasn’t at all surprised). After a bite to eat, on our way back to the hotel, we happened upon the bar the Vipers were at. For some reason, I can’t seem to ever turn down a Donny photo op.  I’m sure he wishes I would, as we discussed the amount of pictures we’ve posed for and agreed it’s excessive. ;)  Luckily, he’s gracious, so it works.  But I digress.  So, that had to happen, and then I realized I didn’t have a Tilley picture, so we had to rectify that, as well.

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A night of fun, friends, and Paolo.  Doesn’t get much better.  From here, Mary Anna traveled onto the Philadephia and the first of the NYC city shows while I stayed in the Boston area visiting family.  (It was a hard choice, but family had to come first.)  We met back up at the show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem later on the next week.  Stay tuned for more!