Instantly cheery and friendly, the biggest surprise about seeing Adele off record and in person is that she's not in fact the moody cow her songs would have you believe.
“Sorry for canceling before!” Adele said with breezy candor, referring to her rescheduled tour dates from June when she was struck with laryngitis, in the same way you would apologize for missing a friend's phone call. After she opened with “Hometown Glory” and “I'll Be Waiting” she started on the first of many quick-fire, chatty anecdotes in her norf Lahndahn accent that even I, a U.K. native, had trouble understanding. Something about a concussion and getting off a bus, and a bruise, and maybe a hammock. She then suddenly stopped talking and laughed, so we all did too.
Her on-stage banter and immediate rapport with her audience was as impressive as her singing—an immense talent that, endearingly, she wears lightly. It doesn't take much effort to like Adele or her music. She may have channeled all of her lovelorn bitterness into her songs, but on stage, conversing with the crowd last night, she was as sweet as a Chelsea bun. “Turning Tables,” “My Same,” and “Take It All” followed, every word and phrase note-perfect.
Adele stood (and sometimes sat on a stool) center-stage flanked by a simple piano that provided the bulk of her musical accompaniment tonight and an under-utilized and over-talented five-piece band with two backing singers. Lampshades, hung at different heights from the ceiling, floated around the stage. Her hair tied back in a loose bouffant and cascading down the front of her left shoulder, she wore a traditional yet austere long-sleeved black dress that could have passed as Victorian funeral attire. She will later say, when asked by someone in the front row, that she bought it for 10 dollars somewhere on the West Coast a couple of years ago, in one sentence destroying any preconceptions I had about today's major pop talent being contractually obliged to be perma-clad in designer garb. Heavy mascara around her eyes, though attractive, resembled someone having played a cruel joke on her involving boot polish and a pair of binoculars.
I wondered whether Adele would talk about the recent riots in London, considering the initial unrest started on her home turf in Tottenham. Eventually, out of the blue, she said, “You heard about the riots in London?” and then presented the grand sum of her analysis in two words: “Fackin' idiots!” which was one of the better commentaries I've heard. “Rumour Has It” (a denouncement of tabloid newspapers, she explained) then began with those stomping drums and ended with her middle fingers upturned with an easy familiarity.
During songs Adele wistfully mourned with her eyes often closed, but between songs she was all smiles and semi-decipherable banter, talking about her heartbreak while grinning. I suppose you would, too, if you were getting paid roughly $900 a minute to do so. “Makes me really angry, that song” she said after she finished “One and Only” before throwing her head back and cackling, but then let out an unguarded groan that let us know that she did indeed mean it.
The Cure's “Love Song” then received a beach-ballad makeover. “Chasing Pavements” followed, sounding rich and majestic. Adele dedicated her Bob Dylan cover “Make You Feel My Love” to Amy Winehouse (“She was such a joker! She had the funniest sense of humor!”)
For her encore Adele came back on stage mere moments after leaving it, received flowers from fans in the front row, and sung her most rousing songs of the night: “Someone Like You” and current hit “Rolling in the Deep.” The audience then took over vocal duties, leaving Adele pointing the mic forward and beaming before she took it back and sang to a room full of her friends.
In support but certainly no less in stature was veteran country star Wanda Jackson, “the First Lady of Rockabilly” as described by her lead guitarist just after he set tonight's performance in the intended era by heartily shouting “Ladeez an Gennelmen!” into the microphone.
Backed by a five-piece all-male band that could all easily pass for her sons (and even grandsons) and dressed in color-coded dark gray suits with bright pink shirts, 73-year-old (yes, really) Jackson's petite frame tottered on stage with clustered diamond earrings as large as spotlights and perfectly coiffured hair that was almost as big as herself.
“We're going to take you on a musical journey,” Jackson said as she highlighted her credentials for her new listeners tonight, drawing stories from her 57 year recording career about playing with Johnny Cash and dating Elvis Presley. She talked about her life and illustrious career as much as she sang, introducing every song with a perfect spoken performance, but it never felt like bragging. “Funnel of Love” and a cover of Presley's “Heartbreak Hotel” followed, her voice from another era, as did her Jack White collab “Shakin' All Over.” Jackson spoke of White being “a velvet-covered brick.” (“He pushes you hard but he gets the performance that he wants.”) She told us Jack said that was the nicest compliment he'd ever received.
Jackson continued with “Like a Baby” and “I Saw the Light” from her country and gospel years, rounding off a condensed history of American roots music. Her final song was “Let's Have a Party,” priming the audience and the stage for Adele, replete with a dainty energy and joy.