Lewis Capaldi + Saint PHNX @ l’Olympia – 7th October 2019

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Lewis Capaldi at Olympia in Montreal

With Adele seemingly on an indefinite hiatus, the world has been lacking huge ballads, soaring vocals and cheeky between-song banter recently. But fear not, because Lewis Capaldi has made 2019 the year when he swoops in and conquers the world with Adele’s winning formula.

At the beginning of the year, the chart-topping star was playing university student union bars but in the UK has recently sold out his upcoming arena tour – a meteoric rise for sure.

Tonight Capaldi makes his Montreal headlining debut on his 23rd birthday. The show was originally scheduled for the 750-capacity Corona Theatre but tickets sold so fast, it was upgraded to the Olympia where all 2600 tickets were snapped up. The anticipation in the room is tangible.

Saint PHNX

First up tonight though we get a 30-minute set by fellow Scots SAINT PHNX (pronounced Saint Phoenix), led by brothers Stevie and Al Jukes. The three-piece brought a lot of energy with them to get the crowd warmed up for the headliner and seemed to win the crowd over almost instantly. The band has already begun to make a name for themselves, drawing comparisons to Twenty One Pilots and Imagine Dragons – even getting the opportunity to open for the latter at their UK shows. It’s almost too slick though. They come across like a group that’s been created for a cheesy Netflix series rather than a genuine band. From their designer “rock n roll” leather jackets to the seemingly choreographed stage moves it often feels like they’re faking it.

At the end of their set, the band divided the room in half, each brother taking a side and pitting the crowd against each other. While Stevie seems to take the exercise seriously, Al had his fun with it, instructing the entire left half of the room to yell, “Fuck you, Steve!” at his brother. Apparently he does the same thing at every show. They certainly seemed to convince the majority of the crowd but for me, and even for my ten-year-old son, it was all way too cheesy.

It’s impossible to dislike Lewis Capaldi. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of his self-proclaimed “big, sexy sad-bangers”, his quick wit and ability to make fun of himself will quickly win you over. His social media has already become legendary with his almost 4 million Instagram followers regularly being treated to hilarious videos.

It has long been the case that American artists tend to celebrate hard work and gruelling professionalism while their British counterparts prefer to appear as if they’re making it up as they go along. Even so, from the title of his debut album, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, to a profoundly dishevelled anti-style that makes Ed Sheeran look like Cary Grant, Capaldi takes self-deprecation to the next level. He even had a “Lew Roll” for sale on his website. It sold out immediately.

The first time we hear him tonight, he’s offstage, welcoming his fans to the show accompanied by Spandau Ballet’s “True.” He and his band enter the stage to cinematic music before launching straight into Grace. And then there’s that voice. For all his silliness and ability to not take life too seriously, it’s easy to forget how impressive his vocal ability is but tonight we are reminded time and time again.

Capaldi wants to make it very clear how this is going to go down. “I’m going to sing some songs, you’re going to listen to them, and then we’re all going to fuck off,” says the Scottish singer-songwriter. Most of those songs are emotional piano ballads. “Do you like rock n roll?” he asks the crowd. “If you do, you’re gonna hate this!”

It’s true that Capaldi’s songs rarely get close to anything uptempo. All that really fluctuates is the extremity of his existential howl which peaks with the excellent Hold Me While You Wait, another piano ballad, which builds to a pained crescendo. Even the relatively lively Hollywood, which he says you can dance to as long as it’s “with tears in your eyes”, is about his failure to distract himself from what he’s messed up.

Throughout the set, Capaldi spends almost as much time chatting, swearing and joking around with the crowd as he does singing. And none of it feels remotely pre-planned. He’s genuinely taken aback when his band burst into a rendition of Happy Birthday (accompanied by 2600 fans) and his crew and Saint Phnx appear with balloons, paper hats and a cake that Lewis struggles to extinguish the candles on.

He claims he’s amazed that so many people in Canada “give a shit about my music” but, on tonight’s performance, it’s clear that although Capaldi likes to imply that his success is unexpected, perhaps even undeserved, things so far have a habit of working out for him and I’d fully expect him to be headlining the Bell Centre the next time he visits Montreal.

SETLIST:

Grace
Forever
Don’t Get Me Wrong
Mercy
One
Maybe
Bruises
Lost on You
Headspace
Hollywood
Fade
Hold Me While You Wait
Someone You Loved

Review and photos – Steve Gerrard

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