Adele knows how to shrink a room.
Nevermind that she’s draped in a floor-length, sequined ball gown or that there are, in fact, 18,000 fans surrounding her. She will make you feel as if you and she have popped down to the pub for a few rounds of liquid courage and karaoke.
At any moment, between turns at the mic, she’ll squeeze into the seat next to you and offer you “another round, love?” At her U.S tour kick-off Tuesday at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, a swaying fan might slosh wine down your back for the full effect.
The north London native is the queen of casual banter; her famed cockney accent simultaneously crass and utterly charming. She bounces from Burger King’s new Mac n' Cheetos (“I can’t not eat that,” she says, letting out her infectious cackle) to the woes of the new mother (“I don’t even have time to poo on my own,” she remarks, this time the crowd calling back with peals of laughter). Someone throws her a Tottenham scarf, a token from her hometown, and she wraps herself in it before singing the Bond theme that won her an Oscar.
Were it not for the fact that she is “teetotal” and sipping “hot honey” from a mug, you might continue this fantasy, that you and she are old drinking buddies. Which brings us to the issue of her voice, the vocal hemorrhage and subsequent vocal cord surgery that sidelined her in 2011.
Tabloid reports of how her voice had shrunk struck fear into fans’ hearts. Following a three-year hiatus, Adele returned with last year's mega-selling new album 25, her third full-length. And last night she arrived in St. Paul to assure us her voice is still, well, that voice.
Adele doesn’t have the range of a Mariah or a Whitney or an Ariana, though she never did. What makes her such a powerhouse isn’t her range but the texture of her vocals. She crackles and croons, she belts and growls. She wrenches words from the side of her mouth like cockney slurs.
The night begins with “Hello,” our prodigal star returning to us, asking if after all these years we’d like to meet. The crowd roars its welcome. An image of Adele’s iconic winged eyes with dark false lashes is splashed across a giant screen. The eyes were closed as the crowd got settled in. They're suddenly opened.
What follows is a mix of old and new — 25’s “Hello” and 19’s “Hometown Glory” with shots of the Twin Cities blown up on the screen behind her. It’s a little hokey, but the crowd gobbles up the gesture. She does a pitch perfect “One and Only” and sasses up the driving beat of “Rumour Has It,” before pausing to invite a family to the stage for a selfie.
It is impossible not to be delighted by this woman. How else would we get through two hours of all our go-to breakup tunes but for the between-song antics of our bawdy darling?
“It’s not going to be a party,” she tells us. “I write sad songs, you know that right?”
Tell that to her rapt fans, who have no trouble finding the party between the pathos.
She does a little dance and shuffles around stage like a kindly grandmother who peppers her chit chat with copious “fucks." She self-deprecates, pointing out how sweaty she is without having done a single Beyoncé dance routine — “Can you imagine how shiny I would be?”
She asks the crowd where they’re from, finds a group of Australians, and tells them she’ll set them up with tickets to her show in Sydney. “SHE’S A SAINT!” screams one mesmerized fan, hoping someone in a position of heavenly power will take note.
She goes on to two more drums-heavy tunes — the poppy toe-tapper “Water Under the Bridge” and primeval cri de cœur “I Miss You” — before the smoky, haunting number that won her an Academy Award, “Skyfall.”
Now, she instructs us, is the time to settle in for some ballads. She abandons the bellowing drums of her backing band for an acoustic set, one that she confesses makes her feel like bluegrass/country star Alison Krauss. (“I’m obsessed with her. Not in a stalker way but almost.”)
The acoustics begin with a new track, “Million Years Ago.” It plods a bit and sounds like a renaissance troubadour singing a mashup of Mariah Carey’s “My All” and Rizzo’s song from Grease. Or something like that. It’s familiar but unremarkable.
Things look up with “Don’t You Remember,” a tear-jerker from 21, and the newer hit single, “Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” which brings the crowd back up from its seats.
This being Minnesota, Adele takes the chance to pay homage to our man from Hibbing. Then a few notes into Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” she yells “Oh shit, stop, stop, stop.”
The music halts. Confused laughter.
“I forgot to tell you to bring out your torches,” she says. “I want a sea full of stars. It’s the best part of the show.”
The arena, packed to the nosebleeds, obliges and the song picks back up, illuminated by thousands of piercing white smartphone screens.
The finale fireworks do not disappoint, inspiring a singalong to “Someone Like You,” co-written by Minnesota-born songwriting wizard and Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson. It’s the song to which Adele attributes a major shift in her career, from beloved Brit to worldwide megastar.
She follows it with a meteorologically apropos rendition of “Set Fire to the Rain,” performing on the satellite stage surrounded on all sides by floor-to-ceiling walls of rain.
One final Minnesota music connection separates her main set from her encore: Not “Purple Rain” or “Nothing Compares 2 U,” but a somewhat random video of Prince’s “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” that also feels personally selected by Adele, and is more charming for it.
“I was thinking about doing a cover,” she says. “But then I was like, ‘Fuck that. It’s Prince.’”
Her encore is short and sweet. Two slightly schmaltzy songs from the new album — “All I Ask” and “When We Were Young,” the latter a chance to screen baby photos of Adele — serve as prelude to the crossover hit that likely won her many of the fans in the room.
“Rolling in the Deep” finishes with a shower of confetti. Each piece of paper is scrawled with lyrics from her songs, little notes scrawled on pub napkins by your dear friend, the international superstar.
Notes on the opener: No opener, just 30 minutes of fans stocking up on wine. “You’re all still drunk from yesterday,” Adele says, fresh off her first Fourth of the July in America. “I encourage you to have a drink. It’ll only make my show better as it goes along.”
Critic's bias: Vivid memories of sobbing my tear ducts dry to the entirety of 21 just like basically every other human alive.
Random notebook dump: Choosing to forgive the guy who dumped wine down my back during “Someone Like You” because it feels like it’s what Adele would want.
Overheard in the crowd: "Oh, she is for sure in that box." — a fan speculating on whether Adele was transported from backstage to the satellite stage via a giant box on wheels.
“You know who’s more iconic than Prince? Adele. Or, like, she will be.”
The crowd: The crowd was equally composed of older couples drinking wine, younger groups of friends drinking wine, sleepy kids in Adele T-shirts, and tiny wine bottles.
One and Only
Rumour Has It
Water Under the Bridge
I Miss You
Million Years Ago
Don’t You Remember
Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
Make You Feel My Love
Someone Like You
Set Fire to the Rain
Video of Prince’s The Most Beautiful Girl In The World
All I Ask
When We Were Young
Rolling in the Deep