First things first: Adele showed up.
And in many ways, that was the biggest hurdle Adele had to clear on her way to triumphing at the first of two shows at London’s American Express Presents BST Hyde Park festival.
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You see, the last time Adele headlined a massive outdoor run in her hometown, in 2017, she canceled the last two shows of her scheduled four-night Wembley Stadium stint after damaging her vocal cords. In fact, this was her first full live show since then.
More recently, there was the small matter of her Las Vegas residency, scrapped at the very last minute, leaving many British fans stranded in Sin City. So when Adele posted “Who’s ready for tomorrow?” on Instagram ahead of this huge show, many people’s retort might well have been along the lines of, “Let’s hope you’re ready…”
Add in some complaints over the cost of some tickets for these two 65,000-capacity gigs (although they were hardly out of line with other major concerts) and the general feeling that Adele – once as London as jellied eels – might have ‘gone all L.A.,’ her adopted home, and you have reasons for the first flickerings of, well, not hometown fury exactly. But definitely some good, old-fashioned British grumbling about the U.K.’s biggest star potentially losing touch with her roots.
None of that stopped the scalpers coming out in force, their mantra of, “Tickets for Adele, buy or sell” echoing around the approach to Hyde Park. Nor, apparently, did it prevent hundreds of fans turning up to listen to her soundcheck from outside the fence earlier in the day, or the likes of Cameron Diaz, Tom Cruise and James Corden from scoring tickets for her first show back.
But the signs were that tonight would not necessarily conform to the straightforward “returning superstar triumphs in hometown” narrative you’d expect. Until, that is, Adele started singing.
She emerged with minimal fanfare, clad in elegant black gown and statement earrings, singing “Hello.” But she barely got through the first line before exclaiming, “I’m so happy to be here!” and asking the crowd for some vocal assistance.
From that point on, the audience was fully on her side, the words to every heartbreak anthem echoing back along the seemingly endless rows of fans enjoying the evening sunshine.
But Adele worked them anyway. “It’s strange to be in front of a crowd again,” she said at one point but, in truth, she remains a natural. It’s become something of a cliché to suggest that her between-song banter contains as many hits as the actual musical element of the set, but it’s true.
It is certainly difficult to imagine any other global superstar announcing, “I’m fucking shitting myself!” as Adele did before a boisterous “I Drink Wine,” all exaggerated eyebrow raises and gurning to the fans who looked like they’d been following the song title’s advice to the letter. But neither could many other singers pull off her cruise ship compering style, reading the signs held aloft in the crowd and congratulating people on birthdays, anniversaries, “divorce parties,” exam results (“I failed all my exams and I’m doing alright”) or simply for making it here from such far-flung locations as Brazil, New Zealand and the United States.
One fan even mentions Wembley. “Were you coming to the shows I canceled?” she asks, aghast. “It’s the fifth anniversary, innit? I wasn’t going to bring it up…”
Most of the exchanges were less awkward. In fact, as she nattered away about staying up late to binge “Stranger Things,” her enjoyment of Britney Spears memes or taking her son to see Billie Eilish at the O2 Arena (“She was impeccable”), it was easy to forget you weren’t at a stand-up gig or a variety show down your local pub. Or at least it was if you could hear her – the cries of “Turn it up! Turn it up!” from outside the golden circle could be clearly heard above her chat, although seemingly not by Adele herself.
But still, at regular intervals, a major concert broke out. In recent years, Adele has seemed to save her most spectacular vocals for her weakest songs, but few stops were left un-pulled as “Skyfall” (after Adele halted it the first time, so security could help someone in the crowd) and “Easy on Me” reminded everyone of what a powerhouse, show-stopping singer she remains.
This may be just as well. In an age when even Ed Sheeran’s tours feature revolving stages and multiple effects, most of Adele’s set relied firmly on her voice to provide the fireworks. And she did – performing “All I Ask”, “Make You Feel My Love” (a spontaneous, unrehearsed selection not included on the initial setlist) and “Someone Like You” along the runway, backed only by a piano and 65,000 voices.
“As you probably know, I don’t have many up-tempo bangers,” she said at one point. But in fact, the ones she does have were amongst the highlights – a brassy “Rumor Has It,” a swinging “Oh My God” and a soaring “Set Fire to the Rain” reminding the crowd that this was a festival, rather than a more intimate soiree.
The latter even saw the special effects kick in, as someone took the title literally (Adele songs seem to have that effect on people) and a combination of real fire and fake rain sent black plumes of smoke billowing across Hyde Park. Patriotic red, white and blue confetti followed as an irresistible “Rolling in the Deep” closed the main set.
By the encore, Adele was ready to (obliquely) address the elephants in the, er, field. “I know a lot of things have happened with this album, I know a lot of you feel let down and I’m mortified,” she said, without giving specifics, after a gloriously emotional “When We Were Young.” “But I take my music very seriously and I had to do that.”
Whether that will appease those still waiting for Vegas to happen remains to be seen but, in the field, it seemed more than enough to restore Adele’s woman of the people status, as rapturous applause broke out.
“London, I love you so much,” she smiled in response. “So much.” And the feeling was clearly mutual. As a final, string-drenched “Love Is a Game” drifted across the fields, some actual fireworks lit up the crowd and more confetti arrived. This time, it was pink and red hearts, perfectly symbolizing the renewed love affair between the U.K.’s capital and its prodigal daughter.
Because in the end, Adele did what she (nearly) always does: she showed up, she sang, and she conquered.
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