Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Adele at the Riv: No. 1 star up close and powerful

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(Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)

Chicagoans have been spoiled this spring with up-close-and-personal opportunities to see some of music's biggest stars. Just this month Paul Simon played an intimate show at the Vic, and Neil Young shuffled around the Chicago Theatre stage. British pop-soul sensation Adele only has a few years on their many decades, but as this year's biggest breakout thus far -- boasting the current No. 1 album ("21") and single ("Rolling in the Deep") -- she was an arena-sized star giving a wonderfully intimate, sold-out performance Tuesday night at the 2,500-capacity Riviera Theatre.

She won't be playing theaters for long, no doubt, and Tuesday's fans certainly enjoyed their good fortune. Adele (her last name is Adkins) walked on stage to a shower of cell-camera strobes that went on for three minutes. "You sing it," she commanded during "Someone Like You," an encore, but the crowd had been singing along all night. During one song, whenever Adele wasn't singing, the crowd shouted their adoration: "We love you, Adele!" "Sing it, girl!" "God, I love you!" That was just the men. When she returned for the encore, someone threw a black T-shirt on stage. She chuckled. It read in handmade script: "ADELEaholics anonymous."

What inspires such devotion to such a normal young woman? There was nothing on the Riv's stage but a giggly girl with one incredible voice. No dress made of meat -- she wore a simple print blouse and tights, her red hair in a heap. No preachy, bad-to-the-bone songs -- "21" is a basic break-up album. No theatrical gimmickry -- Adele's five-piece band shunned solos and worked hard not to be noticed on a stage decorated only with dim lampshades and a few rugs. Lady Gaga's latest craving for attention might knock Adele off the top of the charts this week, but Adele displayed more genuine chutzpah in one stripped-down song than Gaga packed into an entire arena concert.

Adele, now 23, sings with the confidence of a diva twice her age. Accompanied by the full band or sometimes just the pianist, she's expressive and emotive and present in every note. She seems utterly aware of what she's singing. Nothing is rote. During "Don't You Remember," as she sang, "I often think about where I went wrong," she stared into space, actually thinking -- so much that she almost lost the next line. She cracks herself up a lot, too, heaving great cackles when she held a note too long during a cover of "If It Hadn't Been For Love" by Nashville's Steel Drivers, or after singing "People say crazy things" during "Rumour Has It."

She says a few crazy things herself. She's very chatty, telling stories about swiping a sweaty tissue from a Beyonce concert or going guitar shopping Tuesday afternoon in Chicago and finding a Gretsch guitar she'd been looking for since she was 3. She received a smattering of applause when she asked if anyone was at her first Chicago show "in a bar" (probably June 2008 at Martyrs'). She introduced "Take It All," saying it was the first song she wrote for the second album and that The Boyfriend broke up with her a couple of weeks after she played it for him, thus inspiring the rest of the album's cathartic anguish and vengeance. No wonder her songs resonate so deeply with so many; they're about real people and real life. "My Same," she said, is about a loud, brassy friend. "I'm quite quiet actually," she said to contrast.

Hardly. Adele is a belter above all -- wielding a powerful but not overpowering voice that fuels rocket-powered songs such as "Set Fire to the Rain" and "Rolling in the Deep." It's not as effective an instrument when dialed down, though. "I'll Be Waiting" gave away a weakness in softness, and "Set Fire" became icy when she went into falsetto. But the overall majesty of her personality and the ace songs easily overcame any minor flaws. With the heavy production of the album stripped away, Adele shone brightly as a joyful talent with a lot to give.

Adele's Tuesday night set list:
"Hometown Glory"
"I'll Be Waiting"
"Don't You Remember"
"Turning Tables"
"Set Fire to the Rain"
"If It Hadn't Been For Love"
"My Same"
"Take It All"
"Rumour Has It"
"Right as Rain"
"One and Only"
"Chasing Pavements"
"Make You Feel My Love"
"Someone Like You"
"Rolling in the Deep"

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Mr. Conner, you poor, desperate fledgling critic you. Your aspirations to be as hated as the late great(?) Jim DeRogatis are pitiful and contrived. Your innane journalistic skills are weak and cliche'. Must you really rely on trashing icons to make a name for yourself? This tactic to gain popularity and reader response is worn out. I would much rather read your journalism becuase of your wit and attention to inticate detail. Think of all the critics that trashed Madonna or Cher or Barbara, and look at these lovely ladies now, they are out of reach in their influence, and sorry assed critics, like yourself, are still trying to dethrone them with half-truths and opinions based on personality rather than creativity, passion, fan-base or talent. You are obviously the same guy that thought Pink Floyd's spectacles were silly and unecessary, or that Freddie Mercury was the weak link in Queen. I bet another disillusioned critic thought David Bowie's Ziggy was pretentious and begging for attention too. Personally, I want my icons to be bigger than life and outlandish, cause run of the mill bores only last a couple of mediocre boring albums. Besides, what n the hell does your slander of GAGA have to do with Adele? Get the chip of A******, it does nothing but make you another attention desperate media whore!

But dude, seriously, Lady Gaga sucks.

Katz Paganstar, you poor, desperate fledgling fanboy(girl?) you. Before you dismiss Conner's review, which was quite well-done, it's important for you to really understand the difference between criticism and journalism. The two are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.

Journalism is factual and concrete.

Criticism is an expression of opinion.

It's as simple as that. Before you rant about how Conner should love Lady Gaga just because you do, consider those two rules.

Visions of grandeur. Can the little monster's please NOT put Lady DoDo in the same ranks as Barbara Streisand, Cher, Madonna, Pink Floyd, Queen, and David Bowie? If I were comparing, then Tiffany, The Bangles, The Go-Go’s, Boston, Cinderella and Ke$ha are a closer fit. My guess is that Katz will need to Google most of these names.

@BB - I accept your opinion that GaGa sucks, but what exactly does that have to do with a review of an Adele concert? Mr. Connor obviously thinks the same, but what exactly does that have to do with an Adele concert? In other words, give your simple banter and repetitive notions a rest Mr. Connor, and you too Big Boi. It is quite evident that haters only gun for those on top, why shoot for the gutter?

@ Sam - Far from fledgling sir, I am actually a seasoned concert veteran with over 1000 shows to date and 25 years in the industry.....As far as journalism goes, I am pleased to know that Mr. Connor is a critic and not a journalist, for his non sequitur, circular reasoning is questionable and certainly juvenile in nature! I actually just tire of this newbie trying to make a name for himself with the same, lame repetitive slander. Please, Charles and Connor, find another to throw your eggs at, as GaGa is completely untouchable, and there are so many other deserving of your cliche' attention!

@ Brad - Dammit Brad, you are so off base, it makes me giggle like Adele last night. I am quite aware of so much more than all these really disconnected, poor examples you site. Check the stats before you claim "Visions of Grandeur," as GaGa just unseated the big O on Forbes list of influential celebrities. I beg to differ, but it really seems that it is you who belongs in the list with Joey Tempest and Leif Garrett! (ps- check Wikipedia concerning these celebrity dopplegangers of yours for more information on failed carrers.) See you in the unemployment line, or rehab sucker!

.......and actually, I love Adele, I just tire of Mr. Connors tired one liners and constant belittling of the same celebrity. Spread it out you broken record critic.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on May 25, 2011 12:06 AM.

CD review: Company of Thieves, 'Running From a Gamble' was the previous entry in this blog.

Is Paul McCartney going to play Wrigley this summer? is the next entry in this blog.

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