Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Adele Has Me From "Hello" -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

United Center, Chicago
July 10
(shows also on July 11 & 13)

The most important and obvious ingredient in a great concert is great music.

But it's no coincidence that many of my favorite live acts are those who do quite a bit of talking from the stage (or, in the case of bands, whose lead singers do). 

I value when Bruce Springsteen orates about teenage conflicts with his father, when Bono recalls early U2 shows in Chicago or sheds light on humanitarian crises, when Eddie Vedder riffs on his love of Jose Cardenal, when Dave Grohl delivers meandering but charming soliloquys and when Paul McCartney shares recollections of his days with the Beatles and the first time he saw Jimi Hendrix.

It’s not that I want a concert hall to feel like a lecture hall, but when artists speak openly to the audience—beyond the trite “How you feeling, Chicago?” and requisite “Thank you”—it adds to my emotional connection with them and their music.

I know that the stage patter is often pre-planned and even rehearsed, not usually just ad-libbed. But unless it feels particularly rote and banal, it helps raise a concert's pathos and power beyond the quality of the music itself, while giving a sense that the crowds in Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia or even the next night in Chicago won't experience the exact same thing.

Sunday night at the sold-out United Center, Adele sang better than any female performer I've ever heard live in a pop vein.

And that statement may be true even sans the reference to her gender and genre.

But what made the concert truly resplendent, and even transcendent, is that Adele spent more time talking onstage than anyone I've ever seen (save perhaps for the Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan on a night of especially long-winded harangues).

In doing so, the biggest-selling artist of our time--and on her first arena tour, following the phenomena of her 25 album, it feels like Adele is seizing her moment in history--came off as genuine, genial, gracious and all the more likable than I had previously perceived.

After opening the show with "Hello" while rising on a second stage in the middle of the arena floor, Adele soon mentioned how her friends give her crap every time she utters that greeting.

And throughout the night, rather that traipse in generic or banal diva talk, she spoke about:

- Having been in Chicago for a few days and eaten at The Girl & the Goat and Shake Shack, the latter of which she avoids in her hometown of London because the lines are too long.

- That before slowing down upon becoming a mother, she could drink anyone under the table. And intends to again. (She challenged the entire crowd.)

- Her desire to stop picking her nose, learn how to cook and be able to do the splits.

- That she came to love the music of Alison Krauss through the Raising Sand album with Robert Plant, and wanted to perform a few songs in a similar style (notably "Million Years Ago).

- In doing so while seated, she noted that "My bum is too big for the stool" and was afraid of tipping over and having video of it go viral.

- That she wasn't planning to perform on this year's Grammys, but agreed to do it, which turned into "the worst fucking performance," which she ascribed to technical snafus. (Based on how good her voice sounded on the same song, "All I Ask," at the UC, I believe her.) She said she didn't initially realize the performance was so bad, but when her manager informed her she "threw a beer across a room" and cried for two days.

She also spoke candidly about her relationships, past and present, and the wonders and challenges of being a mother, sharing how emotionally difficult it was for her to diminish her time with her child and devote so much time to making music again (after the long gap that followed 21, in part because of her pregnancy and motherhood).

In everything she said, she came off as appreciative--about the hearty applause and her huge success in general--and self-effacing, having noted up front that "My music isn't that fun; it's all about me."

So while all of Adele's blathering felt genuine, and was accompanied by bringing fans up on stage, taking selfies, cheekily twerking and more, it also speaks to her self-awareness that in wanting to deliver a special performance, she couldn't simply stand there and sing.

But when she did, it was sublime, with every song coming across marvelously. (See the setlist here.)

Highlights for me, just to name a few, included "Rumour Has It," "Skyfall," "Send My Love (to Your New Lover)" "Chasing Pavements," the massive crowd sing-along on "Someone Like You" and the ebullient closer, "Rolling in the Deep," complete with confetti.

Adele was onstage for more than 2-1/2 hours, and though probably 25% of that was spent talking, it added exponentially to my enjoyment of the concert and my appreciation of the artist.

I was sitting in the third level of the United Center, somewhat behind the stage, so I couldn't much see Adele's band thanks to an unnecessary curtain on the side--or even her straight-on most of the night--but the power of her voice, whether singing or simply speaking, was rather incredible to behold, and continues to resonate days later.

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