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“Have any of you had to do a piss down the front? Have any of you had to do a shit?” Adele asks her front-row fans Saturday night at Glastonbury, four songs in, as a lull fearfully encroaches. “Is that piss in that bottle? Don’t fackin‘ throw that at me! The BBC had to do a warning about ma potty mouth. I bet Muse didn’t get that.”
I also bet Muse — last night’s Pyramid Stage entertainment — didn’t get that. You can trust Adele. She’s honest. (And for what it’s worth, Muse uttered about eight words in total compared to Adele Adkins’ 88,000 — approximate — words here tonight, all delivered at 2,000 words a minute.)
Yes, it’s between-song banter and that dreaded X Factor word “authenticity” that is Adele’s forte tonight. She’s one of us. She’s real. She’s “fackin‘” believable — and also unbelievable. And we are on-side. The self-deprecation, which continues throughout her 90-minute set, is the headliner — not the “choons” of which she herself admits are largely miserable. Tonight is essentially Adele — already one of the world’s most historic entertainers due to sheer sales records alone — telling us the story of her life (episodes include “When I Did Ma Bond Song” and “When I Saw Garbage at Glastonbury and Decided I Wanted to Do This With My Life”) while her band takes a quick break, then majestically comes in and leads her into song once more.
Glastonbury’s non-party Saturday night headliner tells us that for the last “two or three days” she’s been spontaneously bursting into tears: “I bet you 50 quid I’ll fall over tonight. I’m sure you’re aware I don’t have many upbeat happy songs, which is why some people were complaining. I’m here for an hour and a half and I’m not going anywhere, so let’s be miserable together ….”
By the end, however, she’s elated. “I didn’t wanna come on and now I don’t wanna go off. This is surreal. This is the best moment of my life. You can feel it in the earth here.”
You see, questions abound the viscous muddy approach en route to the Pyramid stage this Saturday night. What will she open with? “Hello”? A funny “fackin‘ ‘ell”? Actually, both. “Hello” echoes thrice through the field. Piano keys chime. Roars greet Adele as she enters a stage she once swore she’d never stand upon. She sings the first verse, amending the opening salvo to pleasingly fit: “I’m in Glastonbury dreaming ’bout who I used to be.” Before the first collective meltdown that we share together (a mighty “Hallo from the other side,” obviously) she takes a deep breath and utters the “fackin‘ ell” beneath it.
Adele’s beats tonight are on the money, both in her honeyed titanic vocals that somehow rise over the united attempts by hoarse punters to sing her songs on her behalf (impossible, guys) and — more importantly — that winning personality that’s charmed the hind legs off audiences both at home, overseas and throughout the stratosphere. Galaxies far, far away are smiling at her jibes and her “oh ma gawd“s. “This is mad,” she says. “I’m just gonna have to go straight into another one, my darlings. I don’t know what to say to you yet.” So she sings “Rumour Has It.”
Rumor had it Adele’s headline set wasn’t going to get the rave started. All day, people have been concerned about the lack of party options after a climactic day of victory-lapping British indie bands: from Wolf Alice to Chvrches and The 1975, the site is littered with openly bleeding indie hearts this evening, looking to top up their highs, as homegrown newbies spent the day coming of age. Their only option for a “proper rave-up” is New Order on the Other Stage or a Fatboy Slim set for the traditional Saturday night out: aka The Big One. Adele — the modern pop balladeer who is singularly propping up the entire music industry (maybe a slight exaggeration, but it’s somewhat true) — is epic, yes. But not the party starter … or is she? Rumor had it wrong. This was the coming-of-age that was well overdue. And the second the crowd realizes that there’s a drinking game for every time Adele declares “facking ‘ell,” it’s on.
The Tottenham songstress emerges like royalty. In a floating black gown, embroidered down the front in a folk-y hippie style, she’s come dressed for the occasion, but it takes a few numbers before even she can understand what’s happening in this field. A notorious sufferer of stage fright, you’d have imagined she’d have done this already on the success of 21, an album only eclipsed in success by third record 25, released at the end of last year. She announced that she’d be doing this headline set while onstage at the London O2 during a six-night residency back in March. But in 2015, in an interview with Beats 1, she told Zane Lowe that watching Kanye headline the festival on last year’s Saturday night confirmed why she didn’t want to do it. “I froze with fear,” she said, “I just thought: ‘I don’t know if I can do that.’” Tonight is her first appearance since her one set here at the very beginning of her career back in 2007. Clearly, a helluva lot has happened since.
When she first speaks (“This is the best fackin‘ moment of my whole life. Can you put the lights on? You, my darling in the blue puffer jacket, come up and say hello to me?!”), you’re reminded why Adele’s headline set is a no-brainer. Her vocals are extraordinary, undeniably so. But her voice is one of the people. “Anyone from Tottenham here?” she says before “Hometown Glory.” The only person from Tottenham appears to be next to me. “Mate! Me! I’m from Tottenham!” Adele doesn’t hear her. She doesn’t need to. You get the impression she somehow knows in her loins.
“Glastonbury means the world to me,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to do this my whole life, but I was too scared.” Adele does a cover of a track from the joint album by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant because “it’s a country one,” she’s always wanted to do it, and, well, right now she can do whatever the hell she wants. She brings a 10-year-old girl up and interviews her live (“When did you get here, my darlin‘? What day? Who have you seen? Bastille? Jess Glynne? Ooh, I like her”). She restarts a song — “River Lea” — as the crowd’s interest wanes to crack another few wise ones. She sings “To Make You Feel My Love,” “the Bob Dylan one off my first album,” and it soothes every muscle ache and every blistered foot. She goes down to the crowd, has a few chats to people, inexplicably picks up a Fez cap (is it a gift?) from a punter and says, “I put your ‘at on, I’m not gonna wear it for the whole song,” then “Oh ma gawd, you look like Brian Harvey from East 17!” This part-Shirley Bassey, part-Tommy Cooper formula is a keen and necessary tactic. It’s the only way she can steer this ship home.
And home she steers it, via “When We Were Young” (her Tobias Jesso Jr. co-write), “Someone Like You” (of course) and her proper banger, “Rolling in the Deep,” which carries us literally rolling into the depths of the squidgy muck. When she asks us to sing along, we discover — painfully — how impossible her talent is. I can’t reach that high; neither can my comrades.
Five seconds ago when she was joking with us, we were all Adele, but now suddenly we’re not. This is Adele’s Glastonbury. We are all just camping in it.
Adele’s Glastonbury 2016 Set List:
“Rumour Has It”
“I’ll Be Waiting”
“One and Only”
“Water Under the Bridge”
“Don’t You Remember”
“Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”
“Rolling in the Deep”
“To Make You Feel My Love”
“Set Fire to the Rain”
“When We Were Young”
“Someone Like You”
This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.
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