Adele: 2009 concert review

This article by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in The Daily Southtown on January 20, 2009.

The British invasion of pop music never really stopped after the Beatles set foot on these shores, but we seem to be in the midst of yet another musical attack from England.

The invading troops this time are young ladies belting out soul music. Adele, who performed Monday night at Chicago’s Park West, is the just the latest of these brassy Brits. She may be only 21, but she showed on Monday that she’s already a talent to reckon with.

She arrives here in the wake of Amy Winehouse, who brought old Motown sounds back to life before her life turned into a tabloid nightmare, and Duffy, another English vocalist influenced by a retro record collection. Adele stands out from the others by mixing the sound of early ‘70s soul ballads with the mellow vibe of more contemporary singer-songwriters.

Greeted by an adoring audience at Park West, Adele waved at her fans, wriggling her fingers. She pointed to people in the crowd as if she were spotting old friends.

Her hands remained animated as she sang. She almost looked as if she were conducting an orchestra as she moved her hands up and down, but if she was conducting anything, it was just her own voice.

She sang in a cool, straight tone, saving her vibrato for only the occasional flourish. Adele demonstrated her ability to leap effortlessly all over the scale, nailing every note with ease and precision.

All that was impressive, although at times it felt a bit too much like Adele was just proving what she can do. Let’s chalk that up to her youth. As she matures as an artist, maybe she’ll feel less need to show off.

In between songs, Adele demonstrated a disarming sense of humor as she bantered with the audience. When some rowdy Park West patrons started yelling at each other in the middle of a quiet song, “Daydreamer,” the crowd tried to shush them. Adele joined in with her own good-natured “Shhh!” and the audience laughed. Somehow, she managed to continue performing the song flawlessly despite the huge distraction.

Adele has a band of talented musicians playing behind her, but some of the arrangements were treacly and generic. (That was also a problem with opening act James Morrison, who was technically accomplished but rather bland.) When Adele’s two keyboard players mimicked the sounds of strings and horns, it just made you wish for the real thing. However, whenever the music got spare — just one or two instruments and Adele’s voice — it was lovely.

It was especially nice to hear Adele play three songs all by herself. On two of them, she played acoustic guitar. On the third, “Best For Last,” she sang while playing an acoustic bass guitar.

Adele’s original songs sounded strong, but she obviously doesn’t have enough of her own material to fill a concert at this point in her life. A highlight on Monday was Adele’s cover of the 1997 Bob Dylan song, “Make You Feel My Love,” which appears on her debut album, “19.” In Adele’s hands, the tune sounded like a classic ballad by the likes of Roberta Flack or Gladys Knight.

Adele also covered the Raconteurs’ “Many Shades of Black” and Etta James’ “Fool That I Am.” Introducing that song, Adele said, “My favorite singer ever is Etta James.”

Adele isn’t yet at the level of Etta James, but she obviously has good taste. And she’s still young.