The NBC special “Adele Live in New York City” began the way any Adele fan would expect: the music phenomenon smiling brightly as she snapped photos with her fans, then comically strumming a guitar as she warmed up with her band, pulling funny faces in the process. The juxtaposition was so quintessentially Adele, and reminded us exactly why the world adores her. She was all smiles and laughter and that undeniable, irresistible charm. She felt like an old friend paying a visit. A visit to a massive crowd of people waiting with pleasure to be ushered into a packed Radio City Music Hall.
It had been four years since Adele performed live. The crowd was buzzing. And as the velvet curtains parted, Adele was more than just a vision in a sequined gown. She was a presence, a beacon. And, as the evening’s host Jimmy Fallon said, a “once in a generation artist.”
The setlist for the one-night-only concert included songs old and new, like her 2012 Bond theme “Skyfall” and 21 hits “Set Fire to the Rain” and “Rolling in the Deep,” as well as tracks like “When We Were Young,” which left Adele (and the crowd) with a tear-stained face. Highlight numbers were the heartbreaking piano ballad “Hello,” 25 standouts “All I Ask” and “Million Years Ago,” and the song Adele wrote to “last forever,” the all-embracing “Someone Like You.” The orchestral accompaniment was gorgeous throughout the entire night, but was particularly lush in the fuller moments of her songs where her voice soared to touch every corner of the hall.
After the first word of her smash-hit “Hello” slipped past her lips, Adele smiled. In terms of her long-awaited return to the music scene, she truly did have us at “Hello.” Despite looking nervous backstage before Fallon’s introduction, Adele’s voice rang crisp and clear. Utterly effortless. She greeted the crowd after the song’s end with an endearing, stop-it-you, “Oh, New York! I’m so nervous.” She hid it well, as the apprehension and worry seemed to melt away to nothingness before the first bar of “All I Ask.”
“All I Ask,” the tenth track from her newest release, 25, was nothing short of heartbreaking and beautiful. Each line floated through the air with a bittersweet twinge, captivating and devastating all at once. Only the piano accompanied her, and they danced a waltz like it was their last day standing. “It’s better on [the] record,” Adele noted. But that was a lie; she sounded just as impeccable live. The crowd was spellbound by this performance, and could barely contain their adoration. Adele responded to a few audience members’ scattered proclamations of love with playful banter and a laugh: “I love you too! But you scare me!”
The deep, sultry “Million Years Ago” began with a single beam of light, and Adele singing a capella. It was red-hot, a slow-burning fire. It pulled at heartstrings with its brooding lyrics of nostalgia and years that slipped away.
“When We Were Young” was expectedly raw and intimate. She began to cry immediately afterward (as I expect most of the audience did as well) and said, “I’m glad you like it. I’ve honestly missed you so much.” The feeling was – is – mutual.
Before she began the ubiquitous “Someone Like You,” she gave a heartfelt thank-you to those who have enjoyed her for all these years: “Thank you for taking my music into your lives, because it’s a big ask. I love being part of your lives.” She added, “I don’t sing this from the same place anymore.” She sings it from a better place, a nod to her partner Simon Konecki who was in the crowd for his very first Adele show. Chills rippled through my body, and the crowd held their breath. The evening’s significance was palpable.
Adele’s voice faded to a whisper in the final words of “Someone Like You,” and Radio City Music Hall fell silent. But only for a smattering of a moment. A still half-second. In unison, the crowd flooded the hall with unbridled, roaring applause. Visibly affected by the reception, Adele placed a hand over her heart and thanked the Empire City.
“Adele Live in New York City” was an evening we had nearly forgotten we needed. It was the honeyed homecoming of an indispensable artist. An artist who is so many things at once: a powerhouse singer and a gifted songwriter, a mother and a friend, but ultimately someone with so much talent and clout in the music industry who remains so down-to-earth. She prompted us with these truths in this remarkable performance.
“Thank you, New York,” Adele said at the show’s end, her voice wavering around the lump in her throat, her green eyes glimmering with tears, “I’ll never forget it.”
Neither will we, Adele. Thank you. We love you. Welcome home.