It’s amazing what a worldwide smash album can do for one’s confidence. Last October, Adele was admittedly so nervous at an industry showcase in Los Angeles that her hands often fluttered awkwardly by her side and she seemed endearingly uncomfortable at all the fuss being made over her—despite having already snared two Grammys.
Flash forward 10 months later. Her command over her audience at the Hollywood Palladium at a packed show Aug. 18 was so assured, it seemed as if years, not months, had passed.
Adele, looking like a fashion plate from 1966 complete with bouffant and a flattering patterned black dress, fully engaged the crowd, talking to individuals like long lost friends. Other artists may get mad when fans tape their shows, posting segments on YouTube as soon as they can hit send. Instead, Adele cheekily teased someone who was taping with two smart phone simultaneously, asking if the fan needed the two phones because they were having an affair. She then admitted she’d tried the two-phone trick and got busted anyway. She constantly affirmed to fans in the balcony that she could see them.
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And then, of course, there’s the voice: so strong and pure and full of heartache. So many lesser singers can barely warble an off-key note live, Adele is able to soar over the audience with her voice. Even when she’s belting, she loses none of her tone or sustain.
She performed a number of selections from first album, “19,” while focusing primarily on “21,” her sophomore album that is sure to add more statues to her shelf come Grammy time. The title is the top-seller of the year so far and first single, “Rolling In the Deep” is the biggest crossover hit in 25 years.
“21” chronicles the dissolution of a two-year relationship, and, as it usually goes in such matters, the break-up is much more interesting than the build-up. On wrenching ballad after wrenching ballad, Adele wrung heartache out of every note, especially on “Don’t You Remember,” noteworthy for including her sins as well of those of her ex, and the shattering “Someone Like You,” which fans sung along with as if it had already been a hit single.
“The last one was sad. This one is really sad,” said Adele, following “Don’t You Remember” and before “Turning Tables,” which she wrote with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder. “You know that’s why you’re here.”
True that, there’s not a lot of happiness running through her material, but there’s something joyous about watching 4,000 people sing the thumping “Rolling In The Deep” back to her. Plus, no matter how many thousands of times we’ve all heard it on the radio by now, it's still spine-tingling to hear her wail the song’s refrain, “We could have had it all” over and over again live.
As accomplished as she is, at 24, she’s still learning how to harness her tremendous voice and there were times when she needed to reel it in a notch and show some restraint. She did just that on two notable covers (both of which she’s recorded), a bossa nova, languid version of The Cure’s “LoveSong,” and a country-fied version of Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love,” which she dedicated to Amy Winehouse. For the latter, she asked everyone in the audience to hold up their phones or cameras, the new millennium’s equivalent of lighters, in an homage to Winehouse. Adele’s success in a time that rewards auto-tuned fembots with one top 10 tune after another is a triumph of substance over style. She admitted as such. As she closed the 85-minute show with “Rolling,” she thanked the audience and praised them for lifting “21” so high. “Without sounding cheesy,” she said, “you’re breaking barriers. I’m not your average pop star.” No, Adele, you’re not. Thank God.