Adele Excels as Both Tragedienne and Comedienne in Stunning Staples Opener

Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Adele performs during her North American tour at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

"I'm trying to powder my tongue a little bit and not swear so much, and I see lots of mothers here, so forgive me if I do," she jokingly told the crowd. "Give me some moral support guys not to swear! I’m British!"

On top of best record, album, song, new artist and all the other Grammys that Adele has already swept, her return Friday night to the scene of the triumph — Los Angeles' Staples Center — suggested the need for an additional category the singer would own, even if the Recording Academy is unlikely to sign off on it: best friend.

“I hope you’re feeling you’re getting to know me, because that was my biggest fear, stepping into rooms this size,” she said toward the climax of the two-hour set. Not a problem: With more a third of the running time devoted to hilariously motor-mouthed monologues and spontaneous audience interaction, probably much of the crowd went home thinking they now knew Adele better than their dates (married couples notwithstanding).

A few critics at the earliest stops on her first U.S. arena tour have made “shut up and sing”-type suggestions … a would-be corrective measure that’s unlikely to be wished for by almost any of her actual fans, who surely recognize that they’re in the presence of not just one of the great singers in pop history, but one of the great broads, if it’s not too late and politically incorrect to use that term in the sense of a bygone era of raconteur entertainers. In song, Adele is a master tragedienne, but between songs, a master comedienne, and a show this wildly entertaining benefits from the nearly even mixture of coloratura virtuosity and spontaneous cackles.

So when the 18,000 attendees remember what they got for the hundreds or even thousands they spent on the resale market for some of the most elusive arena tour tickets ever, yes, they’ll recall getting mad chills during “Don’t You Remember.” And, also: Adele espousing the glory of shopping at L.A.’s Bristol Farms; talking about both her voice and her bum dropping during pregnancy; discussing the difficulties of giving up smoking, drinking and swearing; asking an Australian fan if it’s true that the koalas all have chlamydia; wondering why in the world people dance to “Someone Like You” at their weddings; telling everyone they could knock on her door in London to hold her Oscar; and grinning and doing squats for a full five minutes at the lip of the stage so fans in front could snap perfectly framed me-and-Adele selfies so ridiculous no one at home will ever believe they weren’t Photoshopped.

Needless to say, it takes a lot of turn-on-a-dime finesse to spend an evening veering from being the chattiest goofball Tottenham ever produced to insta-chills. Her latent skill as an actress as well as vocalist was up to that task, with Adele selling every musical moment so expressively that even the seemingly lesser-felt songs off 25 suddenly seemed like all-time weepers. On her best material, she threatens to out-Streisand Streisand (who preceded her by a few days at Staples Center with her own stunning show), or at least comes off as a Streisand who spent more time listening to Aretha than Ethel, yet had more of Merman’s actual personality.

Curiously, but winningly, the two singers Adele mentioned owing a debt to during the show were Alison Krauss and Robyn. Introducing “Someone Like You,” she cited a lyric from Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” (“the only way her heart will mend is when she learns to love again”) as being a prime impetus behind her breakthrough album: “That song was out when I was writing 21, and that lyric just sold everything for me.”

As for Krauss (whose collaboration with Robert Plant, Raising Sand, Adele insisted everyone should listen to on the ride home): “It’s a bit creepy, because I don’t know her and I’m that obsessed [that] every day I type her name into Google and check out news and see if there’s anything new I should know about her. Bad vibes, I know. … When we were rehearsing for the show and deciding what songs to do and how to do them, I said, ‘Can we just have one moment where I can pretend I’m Alison Krauss?’ This is where I dream for four minutes that maybe one day I could feel a bit like her,” she said, launching into 21’s “Don't You Remember,” accompanied by just two acoustic guitars.

It came close to being a PG show, which would be surprising for anyone who ever sat through her F-bomb-filled Live at Royal Albert Hall DVD. Having just asked “Any of you drunk? ... I’m drinking f—ing hot honey,” she then flashed back to the 11-year-old she’d just had on stage and offered a lengthy apology for her sailor’s mouth. At the Glastonbury Festival recently, she’d done a truncated 90-minute set, “and I managed to swear 33 times. Thirty-three times, which works out … I mean, I’m not a mathematician — I didn’t even pass my exams and that — but that’s like every couple of minutes, swearing, right? … So I’m trying to powder my tongue a little bit and not swear so much, and I see lots of mothers here, so forgive me if I do. … Just know if I do, I never mean it meanly, all right? If that’s boos or cheers, I don’t know. Give me some moral support guys not to swear! I’m British!”

And, soon after: “Are there any teachers here tonight? Well, f—in’ hell, I love teachers — they’re so important in our lives. Thank you, teachers … oh, my God, I’m sorry. …”

Was this any way to keep up an image as music’s most celebrated miserabilist? Maybe not, but with Adele still washing her mouth out with f—ing hot honey instead of soap, there was zero evidence of the vocal problems that, along with pregnancy, fostered a five-year gap between tours. And when she assured the audience that nearly every number in the set takes her back on a nightly basis to the sad relationship that inspired it, or at least makes her “feel bitter about still singing about someone that I care so little for these days,” it felt like more than the hokum of a show-business pro assuring us she really means it: You believe she’s reliving her relationship with Mr. Unavailable as much as you believe she really did spend the afternoon working out and admiring before-and-after pictures of her bottom.

So, with more personality, improvisational comedic timing and raw emotion than a set can reasonably hold, could someone get Adele a movie, pronto, please? Like, maybe a reboot of Bridget Jones, or AbFab …? Okay, maybe bad timing on those ideas. She deserves a bigger and better franchise, anyway, where maybe a Bridget type can burst out of hysterical self-deprecation and into world-destroying song.

Setlist:

"Hello"
"Hometown Glory"
"One and Only"
"​Rumour Has It"
"Water Under the Bridge"
​"Skyfall"
"Million Years Ago"
"Don’t You Remember"
"Send My Love (to Your New Lover)"
"Make You Feel My Love"
"Sweetest Devotion"
"Chasing Pavements"
"Someone Like You"
"Set Fire to the Rain"
"When We Were Young"
"Rolling in the Deep"

This story originally appeared on Billboard.com.

comments powered by Disqus