“Hello, it’s me.”
As Adele rose up from a small stage at the other end of the rink, the sold out crowd shrieked with delight, welcoming the singer back to Montreal. It’s been five years since her last concert in our city, and a lot can happen in five years. For one, Adele’s career has skyrocketed; her last concert was at the Olympia, and now she’s playing two sold out nights at the Bell Centre.
Her soulful voice is strong and clear, and the sound mix is perfect, even from what Adele would later call “the shit seats” later on. She warns the crowd early on that she talks. A lot. “Sure you applaud now but you’ll boo me later when I’ve played 5 songs in two hours”. Fear not, her set was 17 song strong, and while her constant chatting breaks the flow at time, it also gives us a glimpse of her charming personality and her self-deprecating sense of humour. She also acknowledged the presence of filmmaker Xavier Dolan, who directed the video for “Hello”.
She quickly moved to the main stage, and the music, which had come from the speaker stack above the small stage, followed. It was a nice touch that made the songs played at the back feel more real. “Hi, how are you?” she said as she addressed the crowd for the first time in her charming London accent. “It’s Friday night; are you ready to have a good time? Well you came to the wrong place. It’s two hours of misery where I sing about my ex-boyfriends.”
The triangle-shaped stage connected to smaller one where Adele sang. At times a screen hid the musicians completely and served as a projection screen like for “Hometown Glory”, where images of her native London soon gave way to aerial shots of Montreal, drawing loud cheers from her fans. “One and Only” was next, and with the musicians now in full view she introduced “Rumour Has It” as a rare feel good moment of the evening, encouraging people to dance.
She followed with flawless renditions of “Water Under the Bridge” and “Miss You”. She may sing of heartache and misery, but there’s a joy that flows out from her soulful voice, a voice that reached out to everyone in the arena. It’s almost as if she finds beauty in sorrow.
She introduced “Skyfall” by recalling her experience being asked to do the song (twice), up to being nominated for an Oscar (“And I won the fucking thing!” she quipped). During the song, follow spots scanned the crowd, recalling the famous gun barrel intro of the James Bond films. Instead of trying to top the song’s grandiose arrangement, she then went into a short acoustic set, recalling the devil-may-care attitude of her teenage years with the introspective “Million Years Ago”. More of her band joined her for “Don’t You Remember” and for her spectacular rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”.
In all the stories she told during the show, it was clear that the birth of her son has transformed Adele. “Sweetest Devotion”, she explained, is about the pure love she felt when she saw him for the first time, and that love comes across in her interpretation. She then sang “Chasing Pavements” before returning to the smaller stage.
There she played her breakout hit “Someone Like You”, letting the crowd sing the choruses, before ending her set with a grandiose version of “Set Fire to the Rain”, with falling water surrounding her. Some quick thank you’s and good nights, and she disappeared down into the stage.
But not to worry, she soon re-entered the main stage to play “When We Were Young”, before finishing the night with a spirited “Rolling in the Deep”, dousing the crowd in a stream of confetti.
For two hours, Adele enthralled an entire arena with her voice and personality alone, without relying on artifice. She sang her heart out, reliving past pain (“I thought I’d ended that relationship on a win, yet years later I’m still singing about that asshole”) but also sharing the shining moments of her life with her fans.
There are many singers that can sing the notes. Adele is one of the precious few who can also sing the music, the language of our souls, that which expresses the inexpressible. Truly one of the greatest artists of this generation.