It’s all about the eyes – shut, open, heavy-lidded, unadorned or with applications of make-up and those false lashes that accentuate the beauty and function of them. Even before Adele began her performance – slowly rising up from the depths of the venue, dressed in a sparkly evening gown that was the evening’s only costume, singing a song that would kickstart a regular dabbing of tears – the capacity audience were treated to an IMAX-like view of a pair of eyes. Closed eyes. It was when the eyes opened, and the screams erupted, that the show began. As we knew it would be, the first song was Hello, and for the next 90 minutes it was one emotional tune after another. Unremitting, relentless – a tsunami of emotion that was kept in check by very good humour, a little bit of heartfelt declaration, and a few improvisational mumsy moments that won the hearts of the crowd almost as much as the songs did.
We know that in the past eight years, Adele has gone from playing small clubs to venues the size of barns; she has released three albums in that time, the titles bearing proof of the age she was when she wrote/released the songs – 19, 21, 25. As such, the albums can safely be classified as true confessional stories of the state of her life at the time of writing. While the songs are solid soul/pop throughout (and while some are now justifiably regarded as classics of the genre), it was the lyrical admissions of failure, joy, heartbreak and emotional fracture that snagged the attention. Adele may not have been as slick as her contemporaries, but there was at the core of her songs a sincerity that bought her ever-widening commercial traction.
With a show that was virtually all ballads (and culled from a mere three albums), you’d have been hard pressed to wonder just how it would work out. This wasn't a well-paced show because from the off it aimed high and stayed there – pretty much. Unlike, for example, a Bruce Springsteen gig (and we are not comparing like with like), there was no foreplay to the music – unlike Bruce, we knew Adele wasn’t going to be taking the show from downtempo acoustic ballad to fever pitch rock song and back again and again in a series of relative troughs and actual peaks. Rather, she leveled the gig very high from the off. Amazingly, it worked.
It wasn't all brilliant – some of her three albums’ lesser songs brought down the momentum, but this was quickly reasserted by songs of such enduring emotive strength as Don’t You Remember, Someone Like You, Million Years Ago, Set Fire To The Rain, and When We Were Young. Throughout, there was no big rock show bombast – visuals were subtle, sophisticated and kept to a minimum. The only really clever Arena-Size moment arrived when a rectangular curtain fell about her shoulders on a much smaller ‘second’ stage, and before you could say "wow", it seemed as if there were four or more holograms of Adele right in front of you. The gig, however, was more about the music and the stories behind the songs than special effects.
This was made more apparent than ever during When We Were Young, which began with a visual backdrop of family photographs and ended with perhaps the most beautiful, eye-brimming, true-life backdrop image I’ve ever seen at an arena gig. Cyclical, symmetrical and the telling of one person's story it may have been, but (unlike quite a few major commercial pop stars we could name) it certainly wasn’t emotionally cynical or manipulative.
Essentially, that’s what you brought home – the notion of a multi-million selling pop star who remains thoroughly grounded, and who is also still able to put her finger on the authentic nub of relationships, emotions, life. Wonderful. Just wonderful. Just Adele.