In an era where bigger is pretty much always considered better, it’s been something of a surprise to see Adele emerge as 2011’s most successful artist on both sides of the Atlantic (her “21” just notched its eighth week atop the U.S. album chart) by employing a small-is-better approach.
To be sure, there are some things about the 23-year-old Brit that are outsized – her plangent voice, her winningly wonky personality – and those were in full effect at this hotly-anticipated Gotham show, a perf in which she eschewed choreography, costume changes and flashy effects in order to let the songs speak for themselves.
And speak they did. Adele, who writes her own material, exposes raw nerves in virtually every verse, alternating between the sort of melancholy that clear precursor Dusty Springfield brought to her material, as well as a barely contained anger reminiscent of Loretta Lynn’s mid-period work.
The latter aspect came to the fore in the set’s most rollicking numbers, particularly a pulsing version of “Rumour Has It” and a roof-raising take on the chart hit “Rolling in the Deep,” while the clouds rolled in forebodingly on “Don’t You Remember,” an eviscerating blues ballad that evinced the sort of delicate intimacy that made it feel like one was eavesdropping on a private conversation.
While she’s capable of belting tunes to the rafters in the mode of kindred spirit Alison Moyet – and in doing so with seemingly little struggle – Adele was most impressive when stripping things down to the barest of bones, such as when she wound a husky whisper around Miles Robertson’s stark piano lines on “One and Only.” To her credit, the onstage hush was met with a stillness that extended into the Beacon’s upper balconies.
There’s little doubt that Adele’s next stateside jaunt will take her to much larger venues, a transition that will suit both her songs and her voice. If her dotty charm and steadfast unfussiness can hitch along, she (and her audience) are in for a fun ride.
Adele performs at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on June 6th.