“Leeds!”, proclaims Lewis Capaldi on the opening night of his mammoth world tour, “I’m fucking back! I’m feeling as strong as an ox. I’ve got the heart of a lion. And the ball-bag of a German Shepherd.” He pauses, for comedy effect. “I’m not sure if that means I have big balls or small balls. But I’ll take it. I do know it means they are hairy.”
You wouldn’t expect anything less from the perma-self-deprecating star who named his 2019 debut album ‘Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent’ and whose gigs are part lachrymose ballads, part extended, and very funny, Netflix special stand-up show.
Of course, contrasting heart-on-sleeve material with a tongue-in-cheek persona is nothing new. Look at Adele, whose music makes it sound as if she has a ‘Kick Me’ sign attached to her heart, but who looks like she’d be the first up leading a Conga line. Or James Blunt who, as the old joke goes, should probably give away his middle-of-the-road music for free and charge for his entertaining interviews. But Capaldi still brings winning charisma and, crucially, his shtick doesn’t seem forced. Even Noel Gallagher, who once dismissed Capaldi’s music as “wank” probably couldn’t help but be impressed at the size of balls (German Shepherd-resembling or otherwise) that it took to respond by striding onstage at his 2019 Glastonbury performance in a t-shirt featuring the Oasis legend inside a heart. You might think it has the potential to wear thin quickly (and leave you feeling, as NME once asked, if we’re the butt of the joke) but it’s testament to the force of Capaldi’s personality that it doesn’t.
If his songs sound like they’re primed for the first dance at weddings, then Capaldi is here to deliver the raucous best man’s speech. Dressed in white denim “because we’re all virgins”, he reasons, he receives as a hero’s welcome as he shuffles onto the stage, with 14,000 fans chanting his name to the tune of The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’; the quintessential Everyman Pop Star despite his growing anything-but achievements (that includes a four-times-platinum selling debut album and four Number One singles). A snowstorm of confetti heralds the opening song ‘Forget Me’ as his raspy emotional voice, which sounds as if he rinses his mouth out with gravel each morning, dominates and sounds rawer than on record. At one point, he performs the relationship-autopsy piano ‘Bruises’ suspended on a platform 20ft high in the air. “Take that Elton John!” he quips. “I’m a Rocketman too!”, before suddenly becoming overcome by the height: “These trousers will not be white when I come down!”
Warming up to release sophomore album ‘Broken By Desire to Be Heavenly Sent’, due to drop in May, a brace of songs receive their live debut tonight which mine a similar sonic furrow as his debut while sounding more expansive: ‘Heavenly Kind of State of Mind’, the love lament ‘Wish You The Best’, and affectingly frank mental-health-tackling number ‘How I’m Feeling Now’, the latter apparently inspired by his Tourette’s diagnosis, which he sings subsumed in dry ice. When he begins the cloying Ed Sheeran co-write ‘Pointless’ – currently topping the charts – he cuts off its opening lyrics of “I bring her coffee in the morning/She brings me inner peace/I take her out to fancy restaurants/She takes the sadness out of me” with a self-effacing: “I fucking hate those first two lines!”
If there’s a disparity between his track’s sombre statements and his uproarious banter, it seems to be contagious, with the crowd even more celebratory and up-for-it. NSFW signs are held aloft. During tender piano ballad ‘Lost On You’, a fight incongruously erupts between two fans. “What a weird song to fight to,” he boggles, miming fisticuffs to its self-flagellating lyrics of ‘Hope you’ll be safe in the arms of another/’Cause I can’t take the weight of your love,” before enquiring: ‘Who won?!” Equally bizarre, when a bra is hurled onstage, he tries it on. “When I imagined the opening night of my sell-out arena tour, this is what I was thinking,” he deadpans, while modelling it. A teddy bear is thrown mere minutes later. “That’s a lot more wholesome!”, he grins.
By the time a second showering of ticker tape accompanies the falsetto-led ‘Grace’, the crowd is putty in his hands, but it’s the omnipresent ‘Someone You Loved’, the fourth most-streamed song on Spotify, that triumphantly closes the night, and he’s practically drowned out by the communal choir reflecting each word back at him. “This really means a lot to me,” he beams, surveying the reaction. And for once, it’s not just his music that sounds sincere.
Lewis Capaldi played:
‘Lost on You’
‘Heavenly Kind of State of Mind’
‘Before You Go’
‘Wish You the Best’
‘Leave Me Slowly’
‘Hold Me’ While You Wait’
‘How I’m Feeling Now’
‘Someone You Loved’