The Imperfectly Perfect Rise Of Lewis Capaldi
Lewis Capaldi during his Jan. 23 performance at P&J Live in Aberdeen, Scotland, which set the record for biggest indoor concert crowd in Scottish history. Photo by Matt Jolly

When Lewis Capaldi finally got to headline TRNSMT 2022 in Glasgow, Scotland, he cried like a baby at the end of his set. It’s nothing new for Capaldi to shed a few tears on stage – whether of joy or sorrow – but this particular show on July 10, was special for several reasons. Glasgow is the city Capaldi was born in. He could have left the singing of his songs entirely to his audience. They didn’t miss one word all evening, and it was during three renditions of the final chorus of “Someone You Loved,” just as the sun was setting over Glasgow Green, when he teared up. When he came off stage, he told his agent, Wasserman’s Ryan Penty, that it was the best show he had ever played, hands down.

“Someone You Loved” was Capaldi’s breakthrough single off his 2019 debut album, Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent. He had garnered millions of plays with previous songs, but this one surpassed Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” as the most streamed song in UK history. It charted in 29 countries, including reaching No. 1 in the UK and U.S., making him the first Scottish artist to reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts since Sheena Easton in 1981. It became the ninth-biggest global single of 2019, according to IFPI data. Divinely Uninspired stands at more than 10 million sales worldwide.

Another reason that made his closing set at TRNSMT 2022 special is the fact that he had been designated to headline back in 2020. That year the festival was canceled, the year after it was only able to go ahead because it moved from its usual July dates to September. Capaldi had to pull out. Having been a part of every TRNSMT lineup since 2017, when he performed on King Tut’s newcomer stage, to finally “headline the fucking thing,” as he put it on stage, was a full-circle moment. He told his fans that he didn’t take it for granted that they continued to show up after all these years without new music (“I’ve been sitting on my arse for three years”). And he added, “I just want to let the kids know out there, you can do it, too, kids, you know what I mean? You just need to be fucking absolutely oozing sex appeal to get here, but you can do it, too.”

His humor is his hallmark. Capaldi seamlessly blends big ballads with straight-up stand-up comedy bits. It’s a bit like “seeing Adele and Peter Kay at the same time,” Penty said. And his audience responds. Aside from bras and knickers, the odd phone containing a frivolous request or offer has been flung at Capaldi during a show. On the opening night of his 2023 UK arena run, he picked up a bra, tried it on, and gave his honest opinion, “This is padded, someone out there is a fucking liar.”

Even people that are not necessarily into ballads love Capaldi because he’s so entertaining. “I hear it a lot, especially from younger men, who say, ‘I don’t know Lewis’ music, but I love Lewis. That’s the thing that translates most in the shows, he’s just such a down-to-earth normal, lovely guy,” Penty explained, adding, “his energy in the room is unpredictable as well. A lot of these bigger shows have to be choreographed; the moments are the same on the entire run. But with Lewis, you’ve got no idea what he’s going to say or do next. That’s why he’s always going viral on TikTok.”

When Capaldi’s voice broke during his Jan. 21 concert at Newcastle’s Utilita Arena, he turned towards his band and said, “My balls just dropped,” followed by a brief chuckle, and an immaculate performance of “Pointless.” “Nobody else can get away with that kind of stuff, he’s imperfectly perfect is the best way to describe him. He’s just so relatable. He is a superstar, but at the same time he will burp mid-song, and you’ll be like, ‘I do that, too.’” Capaldi is so relatable that, even though people can see he’s selling out arenas worldwide, they still email Penty asking if Capaldi would consider performing at their wedding. “We’ll give him food and a good time,” the emails say. It’s not hard to believe that Capaldi would agree, if only there was still room on his calendar. 

But there definitely isn’t. He is about to launch a European leg in Warsaw, Poland, Feb. 13. Most dates are already sold out. The same goes for the U.S. run, which kicks off March 30 at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, TN, and runs through May 11, when it closes at the 713 Music Hall in Houston. Australia and New Zealand are next on the itinerary, the two shows at Melbourne’s 15,000-capacity Rod Laver Arena, July 14-15, are already sold out. Capaldi will return to the UK to headline Reading and Leeds festivals in August. Penty said the live strategy of Capaldi’s career had always been “to keep the demand high, and sell out quickly, which we’ve managed to do, luckily.” 

A view of the record crowd at P&J Live in Aberdeen. Photo by Dod Morrison

Capaldi’s first Pollstar box-office entry is the sold-out Jan. 19, 2017, show at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow: 300 tickets for a $2,702 gross. Other highlights from that year include a sold out Sept. 5 show at the 100-cap Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh, and a sold out 550-cap show at Saint Luke’s in Glasgow, Sept. 15, followed by a European run supporting Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. He came to the U.S. in early 2018 supporting Milky Chance and Sam Smith in European arenas in the first half of that year. He played a few shows in the States that summer, before hitting some of the major festivals in Europe and UK, rounding out 2018 with a UK headline run. A crucial time, as Penty recalled. Capaldi was just getting picked up by radio, the Nov. 13, 2018, concert at London’s 2,000-capacity O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire would become an indicator of where he was headed. Compared to other shows to that point, it took a while to sell out. “I think it sold out about a month in advance in the end, and that was the real changing point in the whole campaign,” Penty said.

With all relevant London media on site, Capaldi began the show with his song, “Grace.” The song’s video sees Capaldi filling in for a woman working at a strip club, gradually winning over the male crowd thanks to his dance moves and support from four Chippendales, who came out on stage for the live show. There was also pyro, and by the time Capaldi joined in the choreography, he had won over the entire room. “You could hear the whole room being like, ‘what the fuck was that?’ but in the best way. It was just one of those moments, the media immediately knew, ‘shit, this guy is so good, and can take the piss out of himself.’ His sheer talent became obvious. From there it really spilled out into everything else we did,” said Penty.

A year later Capaldi sold out Brixton Academy, pretty much exactly double the size of Shepherd’s Bush Empire, on another UK run, which ended just before COVID hit – but not before selling out Wembley Arena twice, March 12-13, and closing things out at P&J Live, March 15, where 11,789 people bought a ticket for a gross of $475,848. It’s the very venue where Capaldi broke the Scottish indoor attendance record, Jan. 23, 2023, with 14,951 tickets sold. 

His Scottish promoter Craig Johnston at DF Concerts told Pollstar, “I’ve promoted Lewis’ Scottish shows since he headlined King Tut’s in 2017. Since then, every show we’ve done together has been a sell out and we’ve been breaking records along the way. He is such an amazing talent and there is no doubt as to why he now holds the record for the highest selling indoor show in Scottish history. It’s an incredible achievement for Lewis, his full team and the venue who are always really helpful when it comes to staging shows in the arena. I’m really looking forward to breaking more and more records with Lewis in 2024 and beyond.”

It demonstrates both Capaldi’s confidence and the loyalty of his fans, that he could go on a world tour after three disruptive years, and with hardly any new music out. 

Said Penty, “It’s been a really good build. I think it’s been sort of problem free up to this point. Even two nights at The O2 sold out in a flash. So far, so good.”