Roughly ten minutes after 8 p.m. Friday night, the lights in the Frank Erwin Center dimmed and the enormous set of perfectly lined eyes resting on a gigantic v-shaped screen that covered the stage flickered open. Moments later the mournful piano line at the top of “Hello,” the lead track off Adele’s 2015 album “25” began and the 28-year-old British sensation rose slowly through the floor, onto a platform set in the middle of the arena.
Dark, dusky and aching with emotion, her voice curled around the melody. As it built into the fiery chorus, she strolled confidently through the ecstatic crowd to a small platform in front of the screen. Standing alone with nothing but a fan at her feet and a cup of tea placed on a stand, she leaned in, allowing the sounds to consume her, sending her voice soaring around the arena and encouraging the crowd to sing along.
The crowd went nuts, cheering wildly, and we barely had a moment to recover before she segued into “Hometown Glory,” off her first album “19,” brilliantly augmented with big screen scenes of not her own hometown, but ours. As glorious drone footage swooped through panoramic views of Downtown Austin, Adele crooned about how the people she’s met “are the wonders of (her) world.”
She was letting us know we’re her new best friends. And because, magnificent vocal prowess aside, she’s so genuinely personable and downright real, of course we knew it was true. This is Adele’s grandest talent, she projects warmth in a way that draws everyone in. She somehow made the Frank Erwin Center, Austin’s least intimate venue by a long shot, feel like her living room.
Even as the screen behind her came up slowly moments later, revealing an extensive ensemble that included an eight-piece string section, four horns, percussion, a baby grand piano and a trio of backup singers alongside the standard rock combo of guitars, bass and drums, the sense of intimacy was not broken.
Sure, she was wearing a floor-length sparkling gown and fronting a symphonic group who wove gorgeous tapestries of sound on a stage pierced by otherworldly pins of light, but she was still our girl Adele. Never mind the grandiose setting and the high drama that runs through most of her music, this is the woman who would later warn us that she might fall off a chair because her derriere is too voluminous, who would admit she’s almost creepily obsessed with Allison Krauss and also, she has a tenancy to occasionally belch during the vigorous chorus of “Don’t You Remember.”
Adele likes to talk when she performs and those are just a few of the topics that came up. She rambles charmingly and at length about pretty much everything. “I don’t get out much,” she offered as an explanation. Also, she’s our new best friend.
We learned she’s been hanging out in Austin for a few days. She sampled the perfectly grilled meats of La Barbecue and grabbed a pint at the Liberty. She bought a pair of boots (that she proudly showed off from the stage) at Allen’s and also outfitted her son in boots and a cowboy hat. The four-year-old British cowboy became “something of a tourist attraction” she said, as folks on the street stopped to marvel at him, without even realizing his dressed down mom was one of the most famous musicians on the planet.
This is the tour for “25,” but she jumped around in her three-album catalog throughout a two-hour set that covered all the hits. Though she admitted she feels somewhat conflicted about singing songs like “Million Years Ago,” “Don’t You Remember” and “Someone Like You,” heartbreak songs written for a lover who she knows moved on long ago, she promised to never be one of those artists who refuses to play the hits. She understands those songs resonate with her fans and she wants all of us to have the experience of singing along with them live. She is, after all, our new best friend.
She gregariously posed for selfies, pulling a few women on stage with her at one point, moving around the center floor platform in a crouch to allow fans on all sides to get a good shot at another. She also had actual face to face conversations with no less than 20 fans throughout the night, talking about birthdays, anniversaries and how far they traveled to make it to the show.
Her music is confessional, often wrenching, and many tears were shed throughout the show, but the overall vibe was pure celebration. She took her set out with a triumphant rendition of “Fire to the Rain” with turbulent atmosphere provided by water streaming down on all four sides of the center floor platform. As she sank beneath the stage, exiting the same way she entered, at the end of the main set the crowd went insane, cheering madly until she returned.
She came back for a one-two punch encore. She led with “When We Were Young,” off the new album and as her voice wound through the melancholy chorus, a series of old photos flashed across the screen. Adele as an awkward schoolgirl, Adele as a goofy kid, Adele as a young artist starting to find her voice. The photos weren’t always flattering, a reminder, once again, how ordinary, the superstar really is.
Then she blew it out with an explosive rendition of “Rolling in the Deep.” As she hit the final climatic chorus bursts of confetti flew out over the crowd filling the air as the elated crowd cheered wildly.
Then it was over. But as we filed out, a realization spread around the arena. Those weren’t ordinary pieces of confetti Adele unleashed on the Erwin Center. Instead, a fragment of a song lyric was scrawled across each tiny piece of paper. “Regrets and mistakes, they’re memories made.” “Throw your soul through every open door.” “To stand in your arms, without falling to your feet.”
It made perfect sense, really. She’s our new best friend and she wanted to leave us with words of wisdom until we meet again.
One & Only
Rumour Has It
Water Under the Bridge
Don’t You Remember
Make You Feel My Love
Send My Love
Someone Like You
Set Fire to the Rain
When We Were Young
Rolling in the Deep