May 19: Adele at the Beacon Theatre

Saturday, May 21, 2011

source: my friend Gabrielle (I stupidly left my camera at home)

"How the HELL did you get tickets?!"

I was met with wide eyes and this question virtually every single time I told anyone I was seeing Adele on May 19th at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. I'm not sure how I managed tickets to her show at Beacon Theatre, but I did. It sold out within minutes and I didn't get great seats, but Adele is the kind of artist you could close your eyes to and still get a full concert experience.

There aren't many artists who I think that of. So many performers today rely on the set, the backup dancers, the dancing, costumes, pyro. Some of my favorite musical acts fall into this category. But then there are the select few who -- stripped bare of backup help, lights, a fog machine -- would still deliver an unbelievable performance. David Archuleta, I think, is one of these people. Adele is another.

source: my friend Gabrielle
Adele is a far more seasoned artist, despite the fact that she is only about 2-and-a-half years older than David. As singers, they are just about equally talented, in a seemingly effortless way. As people, Adele just seems to have so much more to her. When watching her sing, you can see, hear, FEEL the pain and heartbreak she has gone through to get to where she is now. Not to mention, Adele is one of the most charismatic performers I have ever come across. Her banter between songs is light but revealing, self-deprecatingly funny in a way that perhaps only an English person could pull off.

Climbing out of the 72nd Street station on my way to the show, I was met with a shocking number of people begging for Adele tickets. I have never seen anything like it! Scalpers (ASKING for tickets, not selling them) and desperate fans lined the two-block walk between the station and Beacon Theatre, and when I arrived at the theatre, the will call line drew further around the block than the line for entry.

Once inside, I took in the theatre-like atmosphere and the mixed crowd. I often think an artist's audience is the true measure of their success. Female, male, gay, straight, old, young, hipster, preppy, white, black, Hispanic, Asian ... all groups were represented that night.

Adele's opening act, The Civil Wars, started promptly at 8:01pm. I've been following Joy Williams, the female voice of The Civil Wars, for several years now ... she began her musical career as a Christian singer and moved into the singer-songwriter category, which is how I eventually stumbled upon her. Joy and her bandmate John Paul performed a surprisingly comprehensive set, clocking in at exactly 45 minutes -- including a small interruption during which a teary Adele made her way across the stage with a large bouquet of flowers and a farewell speech. I was fortunate enough to have caught them on their last date with Adele.

The Civil Wars were very good, but not fantastic. Both Joy and John Paul have beautiful voices made even more beautiful as a duo. But it seemed that they lacked stage presence. Their in-between-songs banter was virtually nonexistent, and when it did come to be, it seemed the microphones just weren't loud enough or that the two were sharing inside jokes we had no business being in on.

After performing a good number of songs off of their album "Barton Hollow," they broke into covers, including a cool rendition of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." It was clear the audience was growing impatient, and The Civil Wars quickly cleared the stage for Adele.

Adele appeared on stage to screams at exactly 9:15pm. She started out with "Hometown Glory," which I think is a strange choice for a show opener. The set was simple -- an Oriental rug thrown across the floor, a stool, and for lighting, various antique lampshades. It made for a cozy and intimate atmosphere, and the acoustics in Beacon Theatre were perfect -- the instruments and vocals sounded rich and full.

Adele was extremely warm -- even graciously thankful -- towards the audience, speaking about how it was the biggest show she'd done in New York City. She walked into the audience to speak to audience members on several occasions. She laughed, she cried (4 or 5 times!), she shared personal stories about falling in and out of love, her best friend Laura (who was present in the audience) and her mother (also in the audience).

Though "Set Fire to the Rain", "Rumour Has It" and "Rolling in the Deep" were the real crowd pleasers, it was the slow songs that I felt really moved the audience. Adele did not go without performing her cover of Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love," which was even more beautiful in person than recorded. Although my favorite song off of "21" is "He Won't Go," which wasn't at all on her setlist, I found myself deeply moved (to tears!) as she sang "Someone Like You."

She introduced the song, like all the others, with a short anecdote about how the song had come to be. To hear the story coming from her mouth, in her own words, made me connect to the song so much more. As she sang the lyrics, my mind roamed to loves I had had in my life who had escaped me and for whom I could apply the lyrics to. I'd always liked this song a lot, particularly the line "We were born and raised in a summer haze / Bound by the surprise of our glory days," but I never felt I had really connected to it. The words that broke my heart on Thursday night were the ones immediately preceding the line I had always been drawn to: "You know how the time flies / Only yesterday was the time of our lives."

Nothing good ever lasts too long ...

And when the song ended, we all knew there could only be one song left: "Rolling in the Deep." Everyone was on their feet, cherishing the last we would have of this otherworldly phenom. Adele's voice is earthy at times, ethereal at others, and utterly stunning throughout her 90-minute show.

Adele's concert is one of the best I've ever been to in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- the lack of bells and whistles. I would have been perfectly content to have sat there in the balcony with my eyes closed. She is refreshingly open, funny and disarming, and has a way of making you feel as if she has invited you into her home for tea. Her voice is flawless on her albums but in person, it is flawless in a rich and breathtakingly emotional way. The word to describe an Adele concert is "visceral."

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