Adele review – a glorious masterclass in silly-level stardom

Hyde Park, London
Epic heartbreak anthems, plush piano and pyrotechnics are undercut by plain-talking, nerve-fuelled charm as Tottenham’s finest comes home

Three songs into her second night at Hyde Park’s British Summer Time festival, Adele asks the 65,000-strong crowd whether anyone has been to any of her previous gigs. It’s a rhetorical question. The audience blare in the affirmative. “Everyone’s always telling me I don’t do enough shows,” the star concludes mock-huffily. “But if you’ve all been before, I can fuck off.”

If Adele’s quip has a kernel of truth to it – you suspect there’s part of her that would much rather be miles from central London, curled in a foetal ball – her ad hoc charm contradicts it. We all know that the Tottenham singer, long since relocated to LA, suffers from stage fright and a serious disinclination to tour. Five very long years, almost to the day, have passed since she abruptly wrapped up a residency at Wembley Stadium in 2017 after her vocal cords failed. A mooted stint in Las Vegas earlier this year was cancelled at the 11th hour as a wave of Covid hit the production. For an artist so synonymous with the past decade, Adele shows have been rare things indeed.

But when this singer is finally pushed on to a big stage, wrapped in the kind of glamour that doubles as armour, her sets are masterclasses in how to do silly-level stardom. Adele is so very good at playing live. Her voluminous hair, sculptural nails and gargantuan heartbreak anthems are as familiar to fans in the Diamond enclosure (£379 a ticket) as they are to people who can’t afford any kind of ticket to BST (£90 minimum). But she’s the sort of A-lister who, between songs, code-switches to earthiness without pause. One minute Adele is the record-breaking, post-internet phenomenon who saved the music industry, the next, a pub landlady, wisecracking over her regulars’ troubles. She runs at the mouth because she’s nervous. This makes every sighting of her an event.

Tonight, Adele builds up an epic edifice of song, holding long, luxuriant notes on songs such as opener Hello, then gleefully puncturing it all with some pithy aside. Adele does not just perform “relatability”, like so many others on stages this size, she is just excellent company, bringing something of the music hall to this vast encampment.

Would Celine Dion lodge a microphone in her décolleté to fire a T-shirt bazooka into the crowd (there’s a personal note and £50 in there too)? Would Madonna, having been hauled up by her kind pianist, Eric Wortham II, from an ill-advised pose on the runway floor, laugh at herself for “walking like a Teletubby, like I’ve got a nappy on?” Adele wishes everyone a happy Pride – the 50th anniversary parade skirted the edges of Hyde Park earlier in the day – then apologises to some people called Jack and Dean who were deprived of their rainbow flag earlier in exchange for rather a lot of drinks tokens; she comes out draped in the flag for the encore.

She grimaces, rolls her eyes, undercuts the gloss of her OTT productions – Skyfall is a filmic sweep of strings, moody visuals and billowy vocals – by cracking up as she claims to have two “slipped dicks” (she means to say discs). “Also, we just set fire to the fucking rain!” she preens, after her pyrotechnics collide sulphurously with the late-evening drizzle. Somehow, a perfect smoke ring hangs in the sky above the stage.

Adele on stage in Hyde Park, London last Saturday.
‘Just excellent company’: Adele at BST last weekend. Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Adele

The jeopardy inherent in buying an Adele ticket aside, the only bum note about seeing her live is that her music veers between era-making and puzzlingly sedate. Adele’s voice is a bit like Chekhov’s gun, the rule in drama that states that if an element is introduced into a play, it must be used or discarded. Such a powerful weapon as Adele’s can’t remain under wraps, but her skill set sometimes attracts knee-jerk, American songbook-style arrangements that can seem anodyne.

The musical politesse sits somewhat at odds with the visceral discontents articulated so magisterially in Adele’s songs. I Drink Wine, off her fourth album, 30, released last November, is full of self-flagellating misery, looking for a tune the equal of its cri de coeur. Hold On musters the instant gravitas of gospel, but still can’t quite do the abjectness of Adele’s lows any kind of sonic justice. There’s an over-reliance on piano as a signifier of classiness, going hand-in-hand with a lack of engagement with the modern world – with bass, with beats, with more arresting ways of doing soul – in pursuit of plush timelessness. It’s as though she had an uptight maiden aunt she was worried about offending with the young people’s music.

Watch Adele performing I Drink Wine live at the 2022 Brit awards.

Not that this partisan festival crowd gives a damn, if the bangers hit the mark. And they do. Adele’s more playful tunes – the finger-snapping Rumour Has It, the sassy Send My Love (To Your New Lover), the percussive romp that is Rolling in the Deep – square the circle between the singer’s plain-talking and her high-end production values.

The ballads, meanwhile, cut across age, gender identity and economic bracket, uniting the audience in a glorious wallow. The special pleading of Easy on Me sounds as though it has been around as long as Adele’s anthem to not being over it, Someone Like You. The grand finale is Love Is a Game, an old-timey number that brings her deliciously close to jazz in her intonations. It also gives heartbreak a new lease on nuance. “I can’t take another defeat,” Adele husks, in the midst of what must surely feel like victory, as fireworks and confetti fill the air. “What a cruel thing to self-inflict that pain.”


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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