Adele review – a glorious homecoming

Wembley Stadium, London
As the world tour for her third album, 25, finally drew to a close, the singer’s voice and her sweary repartee were both on fine form…

“Wembley fackin’ Stadium!” boggles Adele, at the approximately 98,000 record-breaking souls arrayed around her in an oval of devotion. She is at the sweet spot in her set where, having dispatched three songs without mishap (Hello, Hometown Glory and One and Only), tradition dictates it’s safe for a bag of nerves to exhale and address their fans. One problem: “I can’t breathe in this dress!” she gasps, of her sparkly purple ballgown.

We are in the round, at the first of four emotional finales to Adele’s global victory lap for 25, her third album, which began 16 months ago in Belfast. For years, Adele cancelled gigs so often, she couldn’t get insured. She has come far – attacked by Mexican bats, sucked on by antipodean bugs and assailed by monsoons. The music industry powerhouse is very much looking forward to Sunday night, when she can come offstage for the last time, “smoke some fags” and have “some whisky”, “go wild”.

For afters, she wants to “just be mum” and “eat takeaways and drink white wine”. For how long? She may never tour again, she hints heavily. (“Don’t you fackin’ boo me!”) For all her sweary candour, though, Adele retains a pro’s grip on the laws of showbiz supply and demand. Keep ’em guessing. Leave ’em wanting more. As it turns out, the final two finales are cancelled.

Belting ’em out is a given, at least at this point. Tonight, bathed in hot water and honey, Adele’s voice is tour-seasoned, and unable to miss a note. She knows her sets lean heavily on waves of bittersweet emotion, but Adele’s lower register, when it is allowed out to play, is actually so much more fun. Songs like Rumour Has It unleash her flirtatious husk, while Rolling in the Deep – penultimate in the set – relies on her righteous authority as much as it does her unrequited wail.

Tonight, Send My Love (To Your New Lover) is revealed as one of Adele’s secretly greatest songs, all tropical pop lilt and R&B leanings; it’s “about dickheads”. Quite why this versatile singer has allowed her catalogue to hit perimenopause so early remains a mystery we can surely ponder at length. Adele’s hands, her eyebrows and her pouts are clearly itching to sing more finger-snapping music.

Adele At Wembley Stadium

The staging of these closing Wembley dates has moved on a great deal from the start of her UK tour in 2016. Adele now sings her huge songs from atop a giant cake of a stage, with musicians partially hidden beneath. A ring surrounds her, containing an inner circle of fans. For a dramatic Skyfall, it forms a perimeter manned by a large male-voice choir. Someone very clever has turned the doughnut of video screens into a zoetrope for Water Under the Bridge. The effect ends with a series of jerky images of Adele striking poses: a nod to the zoetrope, and simultaneously to the GIF.

None of the music has been audibly rescored, but many of the set’s visuals have been reshot. Skyfall finds Adele drowning beautifully in a red gown and lippy (“I look fackin’ great, right?”). The touristy flypasts of London that accompany Hometown Glory now end with a sombre meditation on the high-rise crematorium of Grenfell Tower, an arresting touch.

It’s not the last we hear of Grenfell. The week before last, Adele was spotted comforting survivors and visiting fire-fighters. Tonight, we are all exhorted to donate to a fund for victims. She’s going back next week, she vows. Adele used to whinge about taxes; now, she says, she has grown a social conscience. Does serendipity have an opposite? Just as Adele’s Dylan cover, Make You Feel My Love, is being dedicated to a volunteer helping Grenfell’s victims, just a few miles away, Conservative MPs are cheering the defeat of an amendment to a bill that would remove the cap on pay rises to, among others, the emergency services.

You probably couldn’t have an Adele stadium show without fireworks, T-shirt-dispensing bazooka and blizzards of confetti with her lyrics written on them. Her more operatic songs, like Set Fire to the Rain – rain on the video, explosions in the sky – certainly tick the mass-entertainment boxes.

Someone like her: memorable moments from Adele’s world tour – video

Perversely, though, the main event sometimes feels almost secondary to the real draw here, which is Adele herself. If there was a choice between cutting a nonessential song such as I’ll Be Waiting, off 21, for more of Adele’s stream-of-consciousness wittering, who would not choose the wit and wisdom?

En passant, we learn that Adele doesn’t listen to her own songs, she enjoys “quite aggressive” stuff. Detecting the smell of weed in the air, she is impressed her fanbase would smoke such things. She belches off-mic. She gets shirty with spotlight operators. And she tells of how one song changed her life overnight.

She was drinking “three or four” bottles of wine a night after a break-up when she wrote Someone Like You, the stalker-y tale of someone who can’t let go, then does. It is the night’s closing act of mighty communion, upstaged only by its preamble. One day, teases Adele, she’ll tell us the actual story of what it took to get “that fucker” out of her house.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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