Lewis Capaldi at Mad Cool: a comedown from Glastonbury, but ‘Chewbacca’ is unstoppable

Score

“TAP AFF!” shouts the surprisingly large Scottish contingent at Lewis Capaldi’s debut show in Madrid, at Mad Cool festival.

The mercury says it’s 39 degrees right now. Capaldi is wearing a T-shirt and a black trucker jacket.

“Tap aff?” he replies. “Tap oan, for sure.”

Can you be a true Scotsman disobey the rule of taps aff on a blazing day like this? Course they can. But it’s clearly playing on Capaldi’s mind, as a few tracks later, he explains: “You know when you put on a T-shirt and it’s shrunk in the wash and you can see all your fat bits? That’s what happened here.”

Two weeks ago, Capaldi was playing to one of the biggest afternoon crowds ever seen at Glastonbury’s Other Stage. On that occasion, he came out with a swagger, dressed as Noel Gallagher, his comedy arch-nemesis, and played the kind of set that, were his life a film, would have been the pivotal climactic scene.

Today, it’s a different story. Capaldi comes on a 6.30pm on one of the festival’s smaller stages, where an audience about five percent that of his Glastonbury crowd await. There’s no Noel baiting this time, even though Gallagher is here, on site, preparing for his own set this evening. Suffice to say, NME did not the former Oasis man in the crowd.

Capaldi has built his reputation at home by being the everyman pop star. He’s the nerd who ends up with the cheerleader in a teen comedy movie; a Britain’s Got Talent winner who couldn’t be arsed to go to the audition. He looks on his own career with a kind of wide-eyed how-the-fuck-did-this-happen gaze, which immediately puts his fans on side.

I’ve struggled to get on board with Capaldi myself, as this piece about him being the sausage roll of music attests. But here, he’s having to do the real work. His act, back in the UK, largely rests on his personality and his knack for self-deprecating comedy. It’s like watching the Royal Variety Show – a bit of family friendly banter, then a tune that won’t offend grandma, and repeat.

To an audience comprising at least some Spanish people, he rests less on the comedy and more on his songs which, in a short set, are as fine as he thinks they are. Which is to say: they’re fine.

When he does talk, it’s hard not to be sucked into his world. “Do you like rock ‘n’ roll?” he asks, knowingly, at one point. “Well you’ve come to the wrong fucking place… Chewbacca himself is going to give you some sad sad music.” Chewbacca is Noel’s new nickname for Capaldi. And as anyone who’s been bullied or persecuted will tell you, the best way to combat name calling is to take ownership. Over to you, potato.

Elsewhere he takes time to read out fan signs (“King of dank? What does that mean? It means I’m a wanker? OK, fine…”), he describes his set as a “quest to depress”, he tells people he’d appreciate it people bought his album because he’d like to move out of his parents’ house and he declares, towards the end, “This is going alright so far. Thank fuck. I mean, even if you’re not enjoying it, I’m still getting paid.”

And the crowd are enjoying it. Because whatever this reviewer doesn’t see in Capaldi’s forlorn balladry, heart-on-sleeve emoting and Alesha-Dixon-stands-up-from-her-seat vocals, many do find something to believe in it. He loads the end of his set with the best of his material – ‘Hollywood’, ‘Hold Me While You Wait’ and his breakthrough mega-hit ‘Someone You Loved’ – essentially, O-Zone’s ‘Dragostea Din Tei’ played at the wrong speed for weddings.

Charmingly, he caveated the first of those three as follows: “This sounds happy and like you could have a dance, but trust me it’s fucking depressing. I was sad when I wrote this, so think about someone else for a change.” People do dance and clap along, and you can’t help but wish that Capaldi, on his next album, has the confidence to switch modes a bit more, to shake things up, to rock out if he so pleases. Hell, even Noel went disco-dad lately.

It’s hard to shift the feeling that watching Capaldi’s career is a bit like watching the Waldo episode of Black Mirror, in which a punning, foul-mouthed, blue CGI cartoon character becomes prime minister. Capaldi is a pop star who’s so knowing even he thinks his music is shit, which disarms the audience and compels them to like him more. So to see him here, in unfamiliar territory, playing to people not so easily won over with his Caledonian charm, is to see him face a real test. And he won it. With less chat and more songs and plenty of that famous charm, he won the crowd over. He even, whisper it, won me over a bit, too.