“I usually wear black, but look!” the Welsh goddess exclaims. Pointing to a tiny red flower on her blouse, Adele, tickled, shouts “I wore color for you”.
I expected something like this: black blouse, standing mic, Adele perched like the pop divas she’s compared to, all the singles off the new album, and an hour or so of belted love ballads. So when Adele, after kicking off her set with the delicate “Hometown Glory” started her show off stage – I was surprised.
Actually, I was surprised by a lot of things.
I expected to be wowed. Adele’s one-in-a-million voice that fearlessly exposes every scar, broken bone and bruise was bound to impress and I set the bar high. But Adele does something braver than what I imagined.
She starts her set by doing what she does best – singing her heart out under the spotlight, sitting gracefully next to the piano, lit in blue. Suddenly, the black curtain behind her is dropped the floor. To our surprise, the stage is filled with lampshades, warm tones, a full band and two back up singers. Adele transformed The Riviera from blues bar to living room off the Bayou in milli-seconds. Though I’m a city girl, I feel at home in Adele’s space.
She sings mostly tracks off her new hit album 21 (though Adele is now 23) as expected. But what I hadn’t prepared for was the astonishing amount of emotional stamina that material requires. “Someone Like You” a hit single about having the guts to go back to an old lover and confess that you still love them to find that they are married and happy, is performed seconds after “Take It All” a song the singer confesses she “wrote write after the 19 tour. I sat in the studio and wrote this. I had no idea I felt that way until I wrote those words. My boyfriend and I broke up a few weeks later”.
It is easy, especially with an artist like Adele, to forget that music is a business. We get so wrapped up in how intimate the sound is, we lose track of the machine behind it. Poor Adele must be exhausted night after night singing a set almost entirely made up of love ballads, which she has written, from personal experience, to thousands of people. What is astonishing is she does it with grace and genuity.
In order to stay true to herself, Adele keeps herself in check. “One and Only”, one of the biggest hits off of her sophomore album, requires Adele to boldly challenge her love interest to love her back. Live, Adele changes the lyrics to “you’re the only one that I wanted” instead of “want” (as the song is recorded). Adele continues to prove herself as committed to being sincere – the person she imagines herself singing this to is clearly no longer her focus, but that doesn’t render the song unviable. With just a slight change to the lyric, Adele continues to be honest, and therefore the song comes out of her honestly.
As anticipated, the crowd knew every lyric. But unlike a Spears or Gaga concert where fans scream the lyrics like they’re chanting for their beloved mascot, Adele’s following matches her commitment and heart, closing their eyes and crying. Adele delivers a hyper-personal performance and commands the stage like she’s been in the business for years. It is because she gives so much of herself to her audience, they willingly return the favor.
The resulting belt-fest is less group therapy and more magical, though definitely leans toward a love-sucks-bonfire. The emotional outpour gets overwhelming.
But like any smart entertainer she knows her audience. Adele pulls this off and entertains everyone in her audience (including Rahm Emanuel) because she knows we need a second to catch our breath. Before or after singing each song, Adele provides context, anecdotes, and humor. “Woof I’m sweating! She laughs. I wasn’t doin’ any Beyonce moves or anything was I?” she asks her bass player. We need to hear her drop f-bombs, talk about her addiction to cigarettes, and how she hated her best friend Laura when she first met her in order to really appreciate how human she is. We cling to this humanity and it’s exactly what packs her concerts.
Continuing to break my expectations without disappointing, Adele performs covers in her set of “To Make You Feel My Love” (which she recorded on her first album) and “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” by The Steel Drivers (the folk band previously opening on her tour). Usually a new artist at their peak depends on sticking to their own material. Adele sings what she wants to sing. She’s not afraid to sing songs simply because she likes them. Again, showing us that she’s human; she’s not a machine asking us to buy more singles, she’s a heartfelt singer who loves music and will sing what she likes.
Adele’s humanity and complete lack of bullshit that makes her so magnetic to people of all demographics. We see ourselves in Adele – completely love struck, flirty, sexy, celebratory, heartbroken, devastated and lost all at the same time. With every beat from her 6-piece band, and soulful voice comes a pluck on our heartstrings. To say she’s a diva would be to fit her voice but not her misinterpret her attitude. To call her a starlet seems to diminish her power. Goddess for now – as she stuns her audience, commands the stage with grace, shatters expectations and forces you to give yourself back to her.