‘Fuck me, this is high.” Lewis Capaldi and his piano are sitting atop a gigantic screen at London’s O2 Arena. The 25-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter is in the middle of performing his multi-platinum ballad Bruises and obviously out of his comfort zone. As the 20,000-strong crowd begins to cheer, he scoffs. “The song is not finished,” he scolds. “Please shut up.”
This might sound like a horrifying crowd interaction, but for Capaldi’s fans it’s part of the appeal. Ever since he scored a surprise mega-hit with 2018’s Grammy-nominated Someone You Loved – an Adele-style heartbreak anthem that sat at No 1 in the UK for seven weeks – Capaldi has cut an incongruous figure. Although his music often crosses the line into boilerplate balladry, signposting its emotional cues with rasping yelps and forlorn pianos, Capaldi himself has developed a reputation as the class clown of British pop.
It’s a role he leans into at the first of two shows at London’s O2, which were originally scheduled for 2020 but delayed due to the pandemic. After a performance of Forever, during which he ambles around the stage pointing into the crowd with cruise-ship singer corniness, he launches into his first mini standup routine. “How’s your mothers? It’s been a while since I’ve bonked them,” he says. “Weird way to start a gig. I’m a bit rusty – not at shagging, though.”
This continues for quite a while: he makes self-deprecating jokes about his weight, the fact that he doesn’t have any new music to play and teases an announcement he’s making during a TikTok livestream at his next show. “Make sure you’re tuned in ’cause I’ve got some news,” he says. “I have chlamydia and it’s airborne.”
It’s hardly sophisticated humour but it entertains the crowd, which at one point begins a chant of “Oh, Lewis Capaldi” to the tune of Seven Nation Army. It also seems to settle Capaldi’s nerves: during opener Grace, one of his more animated tracks, he looks jittery and on edge; by song three, a stunning rendition of end-of-the-night weepy Don’t Get Me Wrong embellished with some astounding vocal ad-libs, he’s swaggering around the stage like Robbie Williams at last orders.
Despite all his patter, though, Capaldi’s sombre catalogue still makes the show seem slow. Certain songs, such as the brilliant Headspace, which he wrote when he was 17, are filled with such raw emotion that the performance becomes magnetic, his expression taking on a contemplative, almost pained, look. Bruises is similarly moving, his lips trembling as he spits out the song’s wounded chorus. But Lost on You, Fade and Maybe all blur into one, their melodies becoming indiscernible from one another. The latter only differentiates itself when Capaldi swaps out his acoustic guitar for an electric to give the song’s ending a harder finish.
That outro, it seems, is all in service of the seamless transition into the night’s cover, an electric rendition of Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles. Eschewing the original’s jaunty piano and bright-eyed strings, Capaldi and his band dirty things up with electric guitar scuzz and relentless drums. It’s the most dynamic moment of the show, offering hints towards the sort of showmanship that Capaldi, now prancing around the stage, could be capable of – should any future music allow for it.
By the time he performs Someone You Loved as the show’s encore, Capaldi is clearly basking in it, getting the crowd to sing the chorus three times before actually finishing the song. Alone on stage, unassuming in a Nike jacket, white T-shirt, black trousers and trainers, he could be your mate who’s roused the crowd at pub karaoke.
But when you hear that voice, alive with genuine emotion, it makes sense why the pub he’s performing at seats 20,000 people. Such relatability is a clear part of Capaldi’s charm: “I’m genuinely happy right now,” he says at one point. “It’s the happiest I’ve been with my trousers on for many a year.” And just like that, he’s Capaldi the clown again, getting in one more drink for the road.