One of the biggest success stories of 2011, Adele is a study in contrasts. The songstress looks like the girl next door, yet has become a megastar. Her songs such as those on 21 frequently address heartbreak and sorrow, yet she possesses a bawdy sense of humor. She maintains a classy image, yet often lets loose with a laugh resembling the cackle of Fawlty Towers’ Sybil Fawlty. These opposites are on full display on the DVD/CD Live at the Royal Albert Hall, which chronicles Adele’s September 22, 2011 sold-out concert at the famed arts venue. Performing in front of an adoring audience, Adele demonstrates why she is the real deal—she emotes drama and emotion strictly through her powerful voice.
Beautifully shot on film, the DVD captures the deep connection fans feel with the singer. Audience members wipe away tears at some points, and sing virtually every lyric of other songs. As the concert progresses, Adele seems to lose some initial nervousness and allows herself to interact fully with listeners. After the audience perfectly sings the chorus to “Someone Like You,” Adele wipes away tears and says she still cannot believe how people remember every line of her songs. At other times she appears like one’s best friend, laughing about having recently bleached her hair blonde and teasing about her now famously doomed relationships.
Alternating between her two albums 19 and 21, with a few covers sprinkled throughout, Adele shows off her formidable pipes. Opening the show with “Hometown Glory,” she beams at the audience while celebrating her roots: “Round my hometown, memories are fresh/ Round my hometown, ooh, the people I’ve met/ Are the wonders of my world,” she crooned. Joking that most of her songs seem downbeat, Adele performs heartbreakers such as “Don’t You Remember” and “Turning Tables,” particularly shining on the Aretha Franklin-esque ballad “Take It All.” She proves she can handle uptempo material equally well, positively wailing on “I’ll Be Waiting,” which sounds similar to Amy Winehouse’s brand of retro soul. “Right as Rain” is a slice of sunny ’60s pop, while her charmingly eccentric ode to her best friend, “My Same,” benefits from having said friend in the audience. Explaining her amazement at how gossip starts in the media, she stresses the sarcasm and acidic emotions of “Rumour Has It.”
While her own songs earned a rapturous reception from the audience, her ability to reinterpret others’ iconic songs is a rare gift. Her cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong” transforms the track into a quiet meditation on true love. “However far away I will always love you/ However long I stay I will always love you/ Whatever words I say I will always love you,” she sings, letting her voice linger over every word. Few vocalists dramatize the lyrics with their voices alone, forcing the audience to closely listen to—and absorb the meaning of—all the words. Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” retains its heart-wrenching, devastating mood thanks to Adele’s multi-layered voice. Hearing her perform this song, one would imagine her as an older woman who has survived lifelong heartaches instead of a 23-year-old.
The most touching moment in the entire concert is Adele’s tribute to Winehouse, a lovely and touching rendition of Bob Dylan’s modern classic “Make You Feel My Love.” Before starting the song, Adele requests that the audience to hold up their illuminated cell phones and asks the Albert Hall crew to turn down the lights. Along with a twirling mirrored ball throwing sparkling reflections on the walls and audience, the glowing cell screens made the room resemble a night sky filled with twinkling stars. She then turns in an incredible performance, her voice stretching the meaning of the song to encompass grief.
Her encore, consisting of the one-two punch of “Someone Like You” and “Rolling in the Deep,” cements her status as an everywoman–one who can express universal feelings of anger, regret, and determination. As her fans sing along, they illustrate the deep connection listeners feel with this unique talent. While modern, she also represents a throwback to another era, one filled with chanteuses who perform classics as well as current songs, lending them their unique voices and worldviews. Adele is shaping up to be one of those rare artists who not only sings songs, but reinterprets and transforms them. Live at the Royal Albert Hall, which contains a DVD and CD of the concert, further proves why Adele’s talent will only grow and deepen with time.