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.