For someone whose music can be so heartbreaking, Adele sure seems to have a lot of fun in concert. The English singer smiled, danced and casually chatted with the audience at Verizon Center on Monday during the first of two sold-out shows in D.C. This was Adele’s first performance in Washington since a sold-out show at the 9:30 Club in May 2011 — just as “Rolling in the Deep” became a No. 1 Billboard hit. Plenty has changed for Adele since then — she had a son, underwent vocal cord surgery, won an Oscar and released the record-breaking album “25” — but she remains a relatable and universally loved performer with the rare talent of making a big room feel small. Here are five observations from the 16-song, hour-and-45-minute show.
1. Adele likes to talk — a lot.
Early in the show — after a lively “Rumour Has It” — Adele warned fans that she’s particularly chatty at her concerts: “I don’t get out much so I will talk to you forever,” she said, before asking individual audience members questions and leading the crowd in singing someone “Happy Birthday.” She was self-deprecating throughout, and after asking us how our day was going, said, “I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place if you’re looking for fun because I’m going to give you two hours of misery. I have a couple of songs that sound happy but they’re not, because I wrote them.” She also told some of the stories behind her songs, revealing that she initially turned down the chance to sing the James Bond song “Skyfall,” which won her an Academy Award, because, as she put it, “Why do anything when you can do nothing?” (She also admitted that her Oscar is in her bathroom, in case you were wondering.) During a two-song acoustic set, she confessed to being obsessed with Americana singer Alison Krauss. “I don’t know her but I’m so deeply in love with her and I even have Google alerts” for her, adding that Krauss inspired the folk-tinged “Don’t You Remember.” Some of Adele’s banter was clearly rehearsed and canned — she noted this was show No. 92 of 107 on her world tour — but she spoke in a way that felt loose and conversational, as if she was talking to you in your living room.
2. She has a flair for the dramatic.
Near the end of the show, Adele admitted that she originally wanted to perform at smaller theaters on this tour, but her team convinced her otherwise. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from an Adele arena show: Would her voice sound good in such a large space? Would everyone sit? Would there be tears? And while there were a few moments where Adele’s voice got echoey, her voice and her 21-piece band, which included a string section, sounded clear and powerful throughout the performance. The audience stood for most of the show (except when she told us to sit for the acoustic songs) and there were no tears that I could see (maybe some tears of joy). Adele’s set design was particularly impressive. She began the show by rising from the ground on a stage in the middle of the floor and sang “Hello” to the back of the room. On cue, she turned around at the line “Hello from the other side,” to which the crowd roared in approval. She then moved to the main stage, an angular construction with two curtainlike screens that were raised to reveal her band and another video screen behind her. For the climactic, set-closing “Set Fire to the Rain,” Adele performed on the second stage as a circle of rain literally poured down around her (something she has in common with Beyonce, who performed in a pool in the middle of stadiums on the “Formation” tour).
3. Adele is us, we are Adele.
I think what many people love about Adele is how she sings Adele songs like you do when you’re alone in your room. There’s a relatability, a vulnerability that you don’t always get with performers of her stature. When you watch Adele perform, it’s easy to see yourself in her. She was clearly having a blast on stage, shimmying, pumping her fist and cracking jokes. When she asked the audience, “Did anyone come who did not want to come?” the response was tepid. Nearly everyone who was there wanted to be there and soaked up every minute. She even invited some fans up onstage to take selfies. By the end of the show, she revealed that she talks to the audience so much as a defense mechanism. “I live a very small life but also I have terrible stage fright. I’ve had it my entire career,” she said. “The only way I settle my nerves is letting you let me in and I know it’s nonsense. But it helps. So thanks for letting me.”
4. She turns heartache into anthems.
Adele kept harping on how sad her songs are, but in concert, they transform into empowering anthems. You don’t feel sad watching Adele sing these songs live. Even the aching “Someone Like You,” which finds Adele addressing an old lover, became a cathartic release that she dedicated to the audience, who responded by singing along, like an angelic choir. The encore-closing “Rolling in the Deep” was a charging, rootsy anthem — climaxing in confetti bursting down from the rafters. She’d taken this song about a bad breakup and recast it as a joyous celebration.
5. She had some D.C.-specific banter.
Since she’s in town for two nights, Adele had some time to go sightseeing. On Monday, she took her son, Angelo, to the National Zoo. “You’ve got an incredible zoo,” she said, and she would know. “I’ve got a 4-year-old, I’ve been all over the world and I’ve seen them all.” D.C. also inspired her to let us know she watches the Washington-set “House of Cards,” and that she accidentally watched the Season 4 finale before she was caught up. At one point, a fan brought up the 9:30 Club, to which Adele remarked, “I remember that gig at 9:30 Club very well.” And after singing “Skyfall,” Adele remarked on Sunday’s presidential debate. “Did anyone watch the debate last night?” she asked. “Jesus f—ing Christ. I’m not going to get political but I’m sure you know who I like and who I don’t f—ing like. I didn’t say names but I’m embarrassed for you. I’m embarrassed for humanity.” Before she left for the night, she reminded people to vote: “Everyone promise me you’re gonna get out and vote. It’s serious.”
Adele returns to Verizon Center for another sold-out performance Tuesday at 8 p.m.
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