Music reviews: Lewis Capaldi, James and Chvrches, Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

“DO YOU like rock ‘n’ roll?” hollered Bathgate superstar Lewis Capaldi, to an enthusiastic roar from a crowd which had already gleefully hollered his name in football chant fashion to the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. “Well f*** you, I don’t play that shit,” he shot back. “You like sad songs, you bought a ticket to see me.”

Summer Sessions, Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Lewis Capaldi . Picture: Neil Hanna

Lewis Capaldi ****

In fact, some 6,000 people had bought tickets for his two-day residency at Summer Sessions, at £40 a pop. “Chumps, every last one of you!” cackled Capaldi.

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None of this cheek was out of character; he may have become a bona fide star earlier this year when Someone You Loved spent seven weeks at the top of the singles chart and his album Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent also went to 
No 1, but Capaldi is as beloved in these parts for his mastery of the impudent artform known as Scottish Twitter.

So when he pretended to announce Paolo Nutini as a special guest or declared his intention to spin out the set in order to commandeer the Tattoo’s fireworks – which he did, leading the crowd in a looping, minutes-long a capella chorus of Someone You Loved and dropping in a cover of Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger – the crowd loved it.

All of which almost threatened to distract from his ability as a songwriter, and the fact his songs are growing into arenas of this size, from the typically maudlin Forever and Lost on You to the blues-influenced power of Don’t Get Me Wrong and the driving AOR rock of Hollywood. Rarely has any pop star made approaching world domination look so normal.

James ****

“IT’S a good thing we’re not one of those perfect bands who expects everything to work properly,” smiled singer Tim Booth with practiced ease, as he received word that it was Jim Glennie’s broken bass which had caused the gig to grind to a halt. It was a minor mishap for a big stage gig like this, but the way the band dealt with it illustrated the weight of experience the group have accrued over the years.

An acoustic version of an old song was pulled out to fill the gap instead –although in this case that song was Sit Down, one of the most memorable indie hits of the 1990s. Unlike a number of groups of the same era who function as their own tribute band, James remain committed both to recording new music and to providing a live set which is fresh and unpredictable; without the bass failure, there’s no guarantee this song would have made it into the set.

Elsewhere, the eight-piece group played urgent new music from 2016’s Living in Extraordinary Times, including Hank, which pointedly disowns the current American President (“that song had a mixed reception in America, as you can imagine,” smiled Booth) and Many Faces, whose unifying, inclusive chorus became a lengthy crowd singalong. The band seemed thrilled and amazed by such appreciation. “That makes everything worth it,” said Saul Davies. “I dedicate that to Scotland, the only sensible place in the United Kingdom.”

A closing flurry of hits, including Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), Laid and a chiming Come Home felt as though they were being delivered in gratitude for their fans’ enduring loyalty.

Chvrches ****

THERE’S a certain inevitability about the way this Chvrches gig will be remembered; not so much for the show itself, but for the way in which an amusingly puritanical social media furore developed over singer Lauren Mayberry’s stage costume, with critics apparently claiming that it was inappropriate for her to wear an outfit which was in any way revealing.

On one level, it’s a discussion which isn’t worth the bother - although Mayberry engaged with it using typical fierceness herself on Twitter, memorably defending her right to dress “like a gothic Power Puff Girl with Big Witch Energy.” On another, however, it’s indicative of just how much this generally inoffensive pop group cause a weird sense of generational division. Their touch is so light as songwriters, their sound so grounded in that which is gloriously artificial, that those who like “real” music won’t have any truck.

This show, whether you liked the costumes or not, was the perfect place to experience the fantasia they create. After prior Summer Sessions gigs which had been threatened with or fully engulfed by torrential rain, here the audience were engulfed by a wet mist of rain which left Edinburgh feeling like the setting for a Victorian ghost story. Through this mist shone the neon of the Chvrches stage set, a cross turned on its side as though it were a monochrome Saltire; just the right prop for the occasion.

In this context, the light synth swooshes of the music cut through the air with weighty bass power, as Mayberry delivered powerful renditions of tracks like the adventurous opener Get Out, signature songs Recover and The Mother We Share, and the lyrically fitting finale of Never Give Up.

DAVID POLLOCK