Adele Heads to U.S. With Heartbreak, Jokes, Concert Joy: Review

Adele 21
The cover of the Adele album "21." She performed at the Hammersmith Apollo on Sept. 20 as part of a European tour. Source: XL Records via Bloomberg

Adele Adkins offers an evening of heartbreak and sadness. Rarely does such personal pain translate into pop joy.

Adele, the rock success of 2011, avoids gimmicks or showy staging and relies on her voice. She’s preparing for a U.S. tour in October, which will be a hot ticket. Warming up in front of 5,000 fans at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, she introduces songs noting that many were inspired by romantic splits.

Not so “Take It All,” she chirps brightly: The gospel-style song actually precipitated a breakup. Adele wrote it thinking of her boyfriend, she says. “I played it to him. A couple of weeks later, he left me.” Her ex-lover might not have liked the song. The audience clearly does.

Adele, who has sold more than 10 million copies of “21,” has recovered from a throat infection which led to the cancellation of her Mercury Prize performance and other shows. Her big soulful voice is back to match her large personality. Wearing a simple black dress, the 23-year-old Londoner opts for crafted musicianship and garrulous gossip between numbers.

Adele draws freely on classic soul traditions and Nashville country music. Like the brasher Amy Winehouse before her, she mixes these into something that is original. She avoids mimicry and offers authenticity: People believe what Adele sings.

The show opens with “Hometown Glory”, a paean to London that could turn the most sun-drenched of Californians into drizzle-loving Cockneys. She is accompanied by just a piano, in front of a simple smoky silhouette of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Winehouse Dedication

With only two albums to her name, there are many cover versions, including renditions of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” (which Adele dedicates to Winehouse).

Listening to Adele could never be a chore. She could probably sing Rebecca Black’s mundane “Friday” and make it exquisite. Her wise-cracking between-song banter, all glottal stops, shrieking laughter and twanging London vowels, make boredom impossible -- though she may need translation for some U.S. audiences.

The majestic “Turning Tables,” which benefits from a full seven-piece band and string section, was inspired by an argument in a Dim Sum restaurant, she tells us. As a song, it became an incident experienced by everyone.

“Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You” close the show, each delivered with simple emotional honesty: more than enough explanation for Adele’s success.

Rating: ***½.

Adele’s album “21” is on Columbia/ XL, priced from $12.98 in the U.S. and 8.99 pounds in the U.K.

Adele’s rescheduled tour has another date in London tomorrow at the Royal Albert Hall (sold out) before moving to Edinburgh and Glasgow. The U.S. dates start in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Oct. 7 and end in Grand Prairie, Texas, on Oct. 21. Information:

What the Stars Mean:
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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