One only has to utter a single name and everyone is aflutter: Adele. The last few years have been wonderful for Miss Adkins, having received critical acclaim from every outlet possible the minute debut album, 19, was released in 2008. It is not that often you get to witness true talent on a firsthand basis, so thank heavens she visited Birmingham for four exceptional nights on her live tour this week. Attending the second night of these dates, it was pandemonium from the outset, with people queueing for an age just to get to their seats.
With an earlier start time of 8pm, the excitement in the Genting Arena was palpable. My only complaint of the evening? I have to note my sadness at the lack of support act. Whilst I agree that an artist like Adele doesn’t necessarily need one – it’s ADELE after all – this large, sold out tour would have made a fine opportunity for a smaller artist to make their move within the industry and break through. The main positive of this was a longer set however, which everyone welcomed with open arms.
Emerging onto a B-stage with her famously well-lined eyes blinking behind her on screen, she proceeded to belt out her record-breaking hit, ‘Hello’. The irony of the opening line, ‘hello, it’s me’ was certainly not lost on both herself and the audience. As mentioned before: it’s A D E L E. Who doesn’t know who she is? Before we could even get our breath back from singing along to the opener, the first bars of ‘Hometown Glory’ filled the arena, bringing with them a very apparent sense of nostalgia as videos of Birmingham played throughout. Having written the song when her mother attempted to convince her to move away from London for university, it was the first of many instances where earnest and sincere emotion from Adele herself was evident, the much more mature and nuanced delivery of the now 27-year-old sparking several tears from myself and others – it was going to be a long night, even longer considering the amount of time she took out to welcome fans on stage and take photos with them.
Considering that most of her back catalogue features heart-rending ballads, Adele’s bubbly and warm personality is a complete juxtaposition. This made her performance much more felt, reinforcing a songwriter’s quintessential need to express themselves through song. She spoke in-between tracks about headlining Glastonbury whilst sipping from a Mother’s Day mug of hot honey, making jokes, swearing constantly (‘I’m sorry parents, but if I’m not swearing, I’m just not comfortable in front of you’) and causing the crowd to fall about laughing throughout much of the evening, be that through ‘belching’ before a song or her hilarious reaction to breaking a nail. Alluding to her material, she made sure the crowd knew she was performing all her up-tempo numbers together: ‘this is your last chance to dance, then we’re in this misery together!’. A trio of the incredibly sassy ‘Rumour Has It’, the beautifully anthemic ‘Water Under The Bridge’ and sexually dark ‘I Miss You’ went down a storm, Adele constantly looking to her band as she got lost in the music. Taking her Alison Krauss moment, being surrounded by her band on a tiny stage set-up, she revelled in her note-perfect, acoustic performance of ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’, a track rooted in telling someone you hate to ‘get the fuck out of my fuckin’ head and leave me alone’.
Considering her talent as a songwriter, Adele is also a fabulous storyteller when addressing her audiences, and we were happily subjected to several tales. She spoke of whilst being heavily pregnant at 23, she was asked to write the 23rd Bond film’s theme song ‘Skyfall’, and saw this is a sign. She was inspired to write poignant track ‘Million Years Ago’ after driving past Brockwell Hill alone, where she used to play with friends, realising the sadness she had for no longer possessing the freedom of youth. We even heard her story of how she fell in love with country music (thank you American tour bus driver, wherever you may be) and how this inspired one of her favourite songs, ‘Don’t You Remember’ from 21. Added to this, she name-checked several of her collaborators – Paul Epworth, Max Martin, Tobias Jesso Jr. – making sure they got their fair share of the applause. However, as was expected, the emotional tensions were high throughout.
The highlight of the evening, without a shadow of a doubt, was her famous Bob Dylan cover of ‘Make You Feel My Love’. She requested the entire crowd turn the lights on on their phones and wave them in the air to create a ‘sea of stars’, dedicating the beautiful track to the victims of recent attacks in Brussels and Lahore, which evoked serious compassion and emotion across the room.
Earlier into her set, she produced 21 gem, ‘One and Only’. A myriad of dramatic facial expressions and a spellbinding combination of notes made this one of the standouts in her live show and brought true class to proceedings. A touching crowd-boosted version of ‘Chasing Pavements’ was glorious to behold, with Adele dedicating ‘the song that made her’ to her fans; ‘Someone Like You’, brought to everyone’s attention at 2011’s BRIT Awards was written for when she was ‘young and stupid’. She explained how, ‘I wanted a companion who would never leave me… [you’ve all] been loyal to me, I couldn’t be more appreciative… this song doesn’t belong to me anymore, it is yours’. With such sincerity in this admission, she continued to cast her spell over the arena.
The theme of the evening could be defined as one of yearning, of looking back on the past with a sense of fear of time passing by too soon, echoed by Adele throughout. With rumours she is set to take a five year break from the music industry after this 105-date tour, this doesn’t seem all that surprising. This is especially given how formidable her performance is, note-perfect song after song for two hours each evening. She thanked the crowd several times: ‘I have my kid and I want to be his mum, so thank you for my time off’, with the motherly sentiments of track ‘Sweetest Devotion’ taking on a second life. ‘Set Fire to the Rain’, complete with rain and dramatic videos of her face emblazoned on screen, brought a serious sense of drama to the evening.
Despite explicitly not being a fan of encores, she disappeared for a few short minutes before launching up onto the main stage and belting out recent fan favourite, ‘All I Ask’. Backed solely by a piano, the flawless key change within the song was all the more accentuated and awe-inspiring. Chatting between songs yet again, Adele prefaced her penultimate track with an explanation: ‘I have one song for each album that sums it up and gives me the guts to understand and release it. For 19, it was ‘Hometown Glory’. For 21, it was ‘Someone Like You’…’ before admitting that, working with Tobias Jesso Jr. in LA and talking about nonsense, their ‘life, dreams, nightmares’, they wrote her favourite song she’s ever recorded and the track that ultimately symbolises 25: ‘When We Were Young’. It was clear the song struck a chord with everyone in attendance, a goose bump-inducing performance of the song following quickly after. Ending on the rousing ‘Rolling in The Deep’, it was with a heavy heart that the crowd departed. We’d been on a rollercoaster with Adele on this second night of her trip to Birmingham, one that none of us wanted to get off. She is one hell of a superstar, and will no doubt will be heralded as a great long after her time passes.
[Originally written for Redbrick Music]