At 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday night, an hour before Adele took the stage of the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, to kick off her 56-date North American tour, a weather alert showed up on many fans’ phones – a flash-flood warning, to go with the pounding rain and gusting winds many experienced on their way to the arena. A 7:50 p.m. crack of thunder was so noisy that it even penetrated the overstuffed arena.
But that boom was nothing compared to the sound of the crowd cheering for Adele. The audience was intergenerational but leaning toward middle-aged, very white (welcome to Minnesota), and roughly two-thirds female; in this liberal state, it read more or less as Hillary Nation. Pre-show, the merch tables were crammed; many of the younger women went to their seats wearing brand-new Adele T-shirts. They were eager to bask in the big voice, lavish arrangements and unpretentious manner of the woman they helped make a star: “This is a dream come true,” a woman behind me said before the show began. They were also up for a good time. (“I should drink wine more often,” noted the same woman. “It’s gooood.”)
Wearing a black dress with sparkling red and blue highlights, Adele opened, naturally, with “Hello,” rising onto the mid-arena stage while her 21-piece band (including three backing singers, eight string players and a four-piece horn section) worked away behind the screen on the far stage. Though the crowd was singing along a bit on the second verse, they laid out completely during the chorus – that belonged to her. Or did, until Adele was led through the crowd to the main stage, at which point she shouted, “St. Paul! It’s your turn!” Everyone went for it, lustily. The screams at the end were even louder than the screams at the beginning.
Adele sang 17 songs at Xcel, but that’s not why she was onstage for 135 minutes. The show ran past two hours because she likes to talk as much as sing. She’s extremely good at it, too. “You must be still drunk from yesterday,” she said, the day after the Fourth of July; later, introducing “Skyfall,” her James Bond movie theme, she noted that in Bond-song history, “There were some really bad ones. I’m not being judgmental; I’m just being a bitch.” Talking about “Hello,” she called herself “sick of that word. My friends call and I say, ‘Hello?,’ and they say, ‘Is this a fucking joke?’” At one point on the middle stage, she offered to “come as close as I can so [some fans] can take a selfie.” When she got there, she told them, “You know, you can get me in it if you turn around.”
Formidable as her banter was, though, Adele was there to sing. Not everything she performed was first-rate; she does more with Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” than either he or Billy Joel, but that’s not saying a lot. But emotive belting isn’t all she did by any stretch, even on songs you might have expected it from. She sang “Chasing Pavements,” from her 2008 debut, 19 – the song that broke her big in the U.S. – with more subtlety and depth than on the album. “Someone Like You,” which followed, had fewer of the broad melodic leaps that show up on the record, likely due to vocal-cord surgery the singer had undergone after she’d recorded it. Here, Adele modified the melody to something less acrobatic, and it was a lot more fetching as a result. And when she invited the audience to sing the penultimate chorus alone, it was hard not to feel a little verklempt.
It was surprising, though, that she didn’t mention that Dan Wilson, that song’s co-writer, is a Twin Cities native (he led the local band Semisonic, of “Closing Time” fame), especially given that she boasted of attending both the Mall of America and beloved Minneapolis restaurant 112 Eatery. She did pay homage to another hometown hero, though, by screening Prince’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” video between the main set and encore. “I was considering covering a song, but then I thought, ‘Fuck it, it’s Prince, you can’t do that,’” she said.
Anyway, people wanted to hear her songs. She ended the night, naturally, with “Rolling in the Deep,” and at the song’s climax, cannons shot confetti to the corners of the room. As it flew down, something about it seemed unusual. If you grabbed a piece as it came down, you saw words, handwritten on both sides. “Regrets and mistakes/They’re memories made,” said one – a line from “Someone Like You.” It was a wonderful gesture, arena pomp given a human touch. The other one I grabbed didn’t have a lyric. It simply read: “All my love – Adele.”
“Hello” “Hometown Glory” “One and Only” “Rumour Has It” “Water Under the Bridge” “I Miss You” “Skyfall” “Million Years Ago” “Don’t You Remember” “Send My Love (to Your New Lover)” “Make You Feel My Love” [Bob Dylan cover] “Sweetest Devotion” “Chasing Pavements” “Someone Like You” “Set Fire to the Rain”
“All I Ask” “When We Were Young” “Rolling in the Deep”