A stunning effort from music's most reliable superstar.
“It’s my fucking show, I can do what I like,” declared 27 year old superstar Adele Adkins in the middle of her first of eight sold out shows at London’s O2 Arena last night. And, as it transpires, doing what she likes has led Adele to what will rightfully be the year's most commercially and critically successful tour. Moving breezily between heart-wrenching balladry and comic timing that would rival plenty of stand-ups, any fears that an Adele show may be a dull affair were well and truly squashed as she brought her first arena tour to her hometown.
Having not been on the road since 2011, the most obvious difference between Adele then and now is that the vocal issues which plagued ‘21’ have well and truly been put to rest. Opening with the virally successful “Hello”, Adkins’ voice soars across the arena, and any residual anxiety from her Grammys hiccup go entirely unnoticed by the largely awestruck audience. Indeed, Adele’s nerves, which are often apparent in her televised performances, were nowhere to be found last night. She moved through even the more vocally challenging parts of the set with confidence and ease.
The setlist, although largely comprised of cuts from ‘25’, was engaging enough that even the most casual fan wouldn’t find their attention wandering. It’s a testimony to both her songwriting and stage presence that Adele’s show is as engaging as any endeavor by her contemporaries (if not more so) despite being decidedly light on extravagant set pieces and complicated costume changes. No one is more aware than Adele that her material is largely understated, joking with the crowd before ‘21’s’ “Rumour Has It” that they should “stand up and dance while you can, ‘cause after this it’s miserable.”
And when all’s said and done, it’s Adele’s humour, humility and home spun sensibility which shone the brightest last night. The O2 Arena has a capacity of 20,000, but when the “Chasing Pavements” star is cackling away at her own expense or breaking your heart for the thousandth time, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that there was anyone else but the two of you in the room.
Adele talks to the crowd with ease, joking about belching (“better to get that burp out the way now than during the song”), her ample achievements (“there’s no way to say this politely or humbly but I won an Oscar for this song”) and even pointing out some empty seats up in the gods (“maybe they’re the ones that were £25,000 on the internet… I wouldn’t pay that.”) And when she brought a couple on stage who got engaged during the performance of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” to coo over the bride-to-be’s engagement ring, you can’t help but get the impression that Adele doesn’t need to act unaffected by her massive success. The “Rolling in the Deep” star seems truly unchanged, despite enjoying one of the most meteoric ascents to fame of her generation.
Show highlights included the always moving “Hometown Glory”, ‘21’s’ most underappreciated cut “Rumour Has It”, her contribution to the James Bond catalogue “Skyfall” and brilliantly melancholic new track “Million Years Ago”.
Despite the absence of a couple of early hits (justice for “Melt My Heart to Stone”) and the cruel neglect of ‘25’ stand-out “River Lea”, the set felt encompassing and satisfying. The final punch of “Someone Like You” and “Set Fire to the Rain” (which was appropriately performed in a cube of rain on the b-stage), followed by an encore of new hits “All I Ask”, “When We Were Young” and a singalong version of “Rolling in the Deep”, gave the show an altogether epic conclusion.
There’s never been any doubt in anyone’s mind that Adele can sell records, moving nearly 20 million copies of ‘25’ in less than four months, but there was perhaps less certainty about her ability to translate her intimate performance style to the huge venues she’s tackling with ‘Adele Live: 2016’. Her fans and detractors needn’t have worried - Adele proves that along with being one of the finest singer-songwriters of her generation, she’s also one of the most outstanding performers.