This was worth the wait - and not only for the reasons Adele might’ve foreseen.
Finally launching her long-delayed five-month residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace on Friday night, the superstar British singer made no attempt to slide by the memory of her shocking cancellation in January, when she announced just hours before its planned premiere that she was putting off the show indefinitely because it wasn’t ready.
“I should be giving you a standing ovation,” she told the audience through tears on Friday after fans rose to their feet to applaud the one-two punch of heavy-duty balladry - “Hello” followed by “Easy on Me” - that opened her set.
“Thank you so much for coming back to me.” Later she described bailing as “the worst feeling I’ve ever had but the best decision I’ve ever made” and said, “I do stand by it.”
If that’s because the abandoned version of the residency lacked the sense of intimacy she’s said she was after, she’s right to feel vindicated: Weekends with Adele, as this run of 32 gigs through late March is called, strikes an exquisite balance of personal storytelling and Las Vegas glitz, with stirring expressions of pure emotion amid just the right amount of stagecraft to remind you where you are.
In offering the chance to savour one of the world’s biggest voices in a mid-sized theatre, the show also comes at an unexpectedly opportune moment, as pop fans are pondering the drawbacks of a gigantic stadium concert thanks to Ticketmaster’s botched roll out of passes for Taylor Swift’s 2023 tour.
(To be clear, snagging a ticket to see Adele from one of the Colosseum’s 4,100 seats presented its own challenges, not least resellers’ prices that ran more than $800 for a perch in the balcony.)
“The whole reason I wanted to play a small room was so I could be so close to you,” Adele said after she sang “When We Were Young” - sang the stuffing out of it, that is - while literally strolling through the crowd, grip-and-grinning like a politician on a rope line.
The concentration required to use her voice with such control and to identify which audience members were the ones to hug - it was a thing to behold, which you felt fortunate to be able to do without binoculars.
Though it’s tied career-wise to last year’s “30” LP - nominated this week for Grammy Awards including album, record and song of the year -”Weekends With Adele” draws from throughout the 34-year-old’s catalogue, showcasing the sturdy, hand-played love songs that have made her a commercial powerhouse even as pop has moved away from her proudly old-fashioned style.
The show starts with just Adele, dressed on Friday in a simple if glamorous black gown, and a pianist on a small slice of stage;eventually, several scrims slide away and they’re joined by a full band with three backing vocalists.
“I wanted to make it feel like for you what it’s like in the studio for me,” Adele told the multigenerational audience, describing a creative process she said begins with her on piano - “We just around until something feels good or feels sad” - before she and her collaborators build out her songs with additional sounds and textures.
There are flashy set pieces in keeping with Vegas tradition. During”Hold On,” twinkling paper lanterns descended from the ceiling; “Set Fire to the Rain” had a curtain of water and a grand piano that slowly burst into flame. Enormous screens on either side of the wide stage showed extreme close-ups of Adele for anyone not on her walking path.
And for “Skyfall,” her lushly dramatic James Bond theme, a couple of dozen string players materialised in a “Hollywood Squares”-like grid behind her (though it wasn’t clear if the players were there in person or on video).
Yet the relatively straightforward presentation put the emphasis on Adele’s music - on the unashamedly detailed explorations of heartbreak in songs like “Don’t You Remember” and “Someone Like You”and on her singing, of course, which is its own high-grade special effect.
Inspired by her divorce and the instability she fears it brought into the life of her young son, “30” captures Adele in a raw, apprehensive state; it was moving to see her revisit that turmoil with a bit of wisdom.
Indeed, what makes an Adele show such an emotional experience is the feeling that she’s processing in real time, and as always that pertained as much to her rambling and foul-mouthed banter between songs as to the songs themselves.
(At just over two hours, “Weekends With Adele” is longer than the typical Vegas gig.)
On Friday she was hilarious talking about her anticipation for this weekend’s finale of “The Walking Dead” and about how she convinced her set designer to build a chair into the stage because what she thought was a slipped disc in her back has moved down to her left knee. At one point she used a T-shirt gun to blast merch into the audience,all the while making fun of her crummy aim; at another point she invited a woman with an obstructed view in the balcony - one of “the worst seats in this house,” Adele called it - to come take anew seat near the stage, where the singer proceeded to chat up the woman about where she was from.
Adele even made a thank you to the suits at Caesars corporate sound sincere: “There has been a lot of written about me since I cancelled those shows, and I tell you, 90 per cent of it is absolutely,completely made up,” she said. “There’s been rumours that I’ve moved hotels and that I’m moving theatres and all this, and never once did they ask any questions.”
Adele said this as her band was preparing to rev up “Rolling in the Deep,” which with its stomping beat and its chorus that everyone knows had the feel of a closing number. But Adele tacked on one more tune to finish Friday’s show: the lush and romantic “Love Is a Game,”which also ends “30” on a note of happily foolish optimism.
“I will remember this night for the rest of my life,” she said as her band played her out. “Better late than never.” — tca/dpa