Photography: Chontalle Musson
Review: Grace Hood-Edwards
“Do you like fucking rock and roll? Well you’re not going to enjoy this then!”
So says the man of the night – Lewis Capaldi – as he wraps up his first five minute spiel to the audience. Capaldi, well known and loved for his puckish antics and sense of humour – particularly on Instagram – has the audience roaring with laughter as he walks about the stage, entertaining the crowd in these moments of conversation more than any musician I’ve seen in concert. His talks to the audience are less talks and more like miniature stand-up sets and are, surprisingly, almost as much a draw as the music itself.
Capaldi certainly has a well-primed audience to perform to, after they’ve already been warmed up by Australian indie-pop musician Yorke. A sold out concert, the town hall is absolutely packed, with people nearly spilling out the doors. The crowd slavishly (and drunkenly) hangs on Capaldi’s every word. They are big fans. A fact proven first during ‘One’ as Capaldi almost lazily pauses and allows the crowd to shout the lyrics en masse back at him.
It is undeniable that Capaldi’s voice is a powerful instrument, with the ability to shift between gravelly and smooth – although Capaldi does hang around more in the former than the latter. During ‘Maybe’ his voice billows outwards, filling the town hall effortlessly as he howls about being “better off on my own.” Much of Capaldi’s songs from Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent follow a similar theme and pattern – it is a heartbreak album after all. What is impressive is Capaldi’s ability to easily switch between laughing and joking irreverently one moment to then crying out in what truly sounds like pain and heartbreak.
Perhaps that is part of the attraction to Capaldi and the balance he has struck with this latest album. The best comedy doesn’t work unless there’s a little heartbreak.
Capaldi then breaks off into a little humorous tangent, walking us through the inception and inclusion of the next track on his recently released extended edition album. ‘Before You Go’ sees Capaldi spotlighted, just him and his guitar, before it picks up momentum. As he hits the chorus, his voice is resounding as it rasps out above the audience. For a song that was released only a couple of weeks ago, it is impressive the force at which the audience sing Capaldi’s lyrics back to him. With a raw burr in his voice and what feels like a stadium’s worth decibel of audience appreciation, it is hard not to draw a direct comparison between Lewis Capaldi and Adele in this moment. Both cheeky and down-to-earth Brits with roaring voices and mass appeal, singing soulfully and powerfully about heartbreak.
It is even hard for Capaldi to get through a song without the crowd’s appreciation overwhelming his performance. In ‘Bruises’, another ballad, Capaldi croons into the microphone in a haunting moment of gentleness. Before he can even finish the song, the crowd break into huge applause. With a hand over his heart, Capaldi looks over the audience before saying: “I appreciate the applause, but it’s not over so please” – repeating his constant, well-meaning refrain throughout the show “shut the fuck up.”
His interludes with the crowd are certainly entertaining but definitely serve to encourage an already riotous crowd – one that throws a pair of sunglasses at Capaldi and has individuals breaking out screaming intelligible shouts of adoration or requests for songs every couple of seconds. Capaldi takes it in good humour – you get a sense he’s had practice working his way up through many a Scottish pub – yet it feels a little like he’s wrangling a group of drunk, unruly teens. He does so masterfully – the good-natured leader of this mob of fools – yet you cannot help feel it ruins some of the flow of the concert.
Capaldi changes gears somewhat with the upbeat ‘Hollywood’, where the drumline is infectious and the crowd throw their hands up and dance furiously at the chorus. This track calls to mind George Ezra, with similar vocals and tempo, and can definitely be classified as – out of all Capaldi’s songs – a fun bop. A sharp transition follows as Capaldi turns his back to the audience, silhouetted on a blood-red stage, as the band build up an intense wailing, drum crashing introduction to ‘Fade’. It is the one interlude through the night that creates a sense of atmosphere and really hints at the possibility of what a Capaldi concert could look like in the future.
‘Fade’ itself is another solemn and impassioned piano ballad, demonstrating Capaldi’s hearty vocals whilst still treading many of the same paths as previous songs. Despite Capaldi’s claim that we would not listen to a rock concert this evening, ‘Fade’ brings to mind Harry Styles’ ‘Sign of the Times’ – another modern power-ballad – which in and of itself draws heavily on a historical legacy of British rock n roll. All these influences can be heard in Capaldi’s somewhat repetitive set list – the album is called Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, after all. However, the way that Capaldi sings – wringing every drop of emotionality out of his melancholic lyrics – is impressive enough to pull it off. The crowd is spellbound as he, illuminated by white light, roars out a final plaintive plea of “don’t fade away.”
In an interlude which highlights the core of Capaldi’s character, he takes time to thank Yorke, his band, the audience and his fans whilst also giving the audience the respect of announcing these would be his final two songs.
He plays them – ‘Hold Me’ and ‘Someone You Loved’ – to great fanfare from the audience, who throw their hands up at the crescendo of ‘Hold Me’ – spurred on by the frenetic lights – and who begin an enthusiastic and completely out of time clap during ‘Someone You Loved’. Capaldi, face alight with glee, clearly doesn’t mind as he pumps his fist and urges the crowd on. He throws some final peace signs, gives one last thanks and says farewell – although it is nearly impossible to hear under the screams of the crowd.
Capaldi exits and lights come up to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. In good spirits, the crowd trail out, arms slung around shoulders, singing along to Queen’s iconic hit. Although Capaldi clearly stated this wouldn’t be a rock concert, it is obvious he has a clear love for rock, and I would be very keen to hear a rock n roll album from him.
What Capaldi has done, and continues to do, cannot be summarised more plainly than a quote from a drunk British girl nearby, shouting over Capaldi halfway through the concert: “Imagine you get shagged, and then you get your heart broken, and you have to sing about it over and over again… I just realised I feel sad for Lewis. He’s heartbroken. And he’s going all over the world telling everyone about it!”It might be an old formula, but it’s a good one, and has been part of what has skyrocketed him to fame across the globe.
Although surely singing heartbreak lyrics over and over again on stage must dull the pain, his voice belies – or at least emulates – a deep well of pain. It’s there as he cries out for his love to “stay” and wishes he “was good enough” in ‘Hold Me’, as he wishes his former partner “all the love you’re looking for” in ‘Forever’, as he admits he “close(s) (his) eyes when it hurts sometimes” in ‘Someone You Loved’… That’s the greatest draw to Capaldi as a musician at this stage – the earnest and raw pain he conveys in his voice and through his lyrics. Whether he truly feels it now or not, he did at some point, and he makes you feel it too.