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Adele At Madison Square Garden, Monday, September 26th, 2016, Reviewed

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It used to be a standing putdown of the US: they have no memory. But in 2016, it is a standard complaint of Western culture. In the mid-00s, three women came out of London,  onto myspace,  and into our space. Amy Winehouse, the finest singer of her generation, released Back To Black in 2007, Lily Allen’s first single broke pop in 2006, and Adele released 19 in 2008. Nearly ten years later, Amy is dead, Lily, reeling from the loss of her friend retreated and couldn’t come back, and Adele… Adele hit the jackpot. A controlled contralto singer with not much range but power to spare, she was considered the new Amy, but Adele is no Amy, Amy was a contemporary soul performer inspired by hip hop, adele a middle of the road pop singer . Though nobody remembers any  of that.

At Madison Square Garden Monday night, the well beloved Adele, riding her second smash hit album in a row to a sold out stadium tour, and six sold out nights here, actually reminded me more of a group I saw at the very same venue back in 1998, The Spice Girls. The audience was a lot older, but it was a similar  female heavy Lifetime audience come to life, men were the sex the women were discussing, though the only men present were part of couples and there was a sense of sexual segregation. The extremely chatty Adele spent forty minutes of a 120 minute set talking to the women in the audience, explaining herself, her life, how she came to write the songs (though she MEANS writes the lyrics), a heavy bonding experience. The giveaway,? Adele inviting three generations of the same family on stage: Grandmother, mother, daughters: a personification of her sad songs say so much sensibility for girls of all ages. The audience ate it up.

As for a non-fan? I was impressed by Adele constructing a live timetable of her career, with stories to fill in the gap, and a reality performance, and not just because there was no back up tapes I could hear, no autotune, no lip synching, and a strong full orchestra, as she said about “Someone Like You”: shit got real. On stage, Adele is what she is and if off stage she is the roommate most likely to be stabbed to death, on stage, she breaks right through the 20K seater MSG and makes it as personable as possible. This may be image, but it isn’t only image. And more offtage, according to New York Post’s Page Six: “Adele has kept a low profile in town while playing six nights at Madison Square Garden.Said an insider,Hollywood stars need to start taking lessons from Adele on how to be low-key.” Spies said the singer had her security team sneak her in and out of her hotel via a private garage. She also made it to see “Hamilton” and “Matilda” on Broadway largely undetected.She and her partner Simon took their son to a matinee of “Matilda” on Saturday, according to a spy. “They slipped in virtually unnoticed” because Adele bought her own tickets to the show so as not to spark attention.She has also shopped at Whole Foods and Target incognito, we hear.” I mention this in detail because, after Amy’s death, Adele herself disappeared for five years, as she noted during the show, she will disappear again. She needs a life away from the spotlight. So in summation, Adele performed a career spanning two hour concert, with a live orchestra behind her, belted out every song with power and precision, kidded us, kidded herself, made us her friend and left us. While it is true her recordings is modern day songs by committee, Max Martin could not have written “Send My Love (To Your New Love)” alone.

Again, as  a non- fan: I love her voice though I don’t love her material and she oversells everything and beyond. 19 is a good, mainstream take on Amy’s  sublime Frank, 21 was an overblown  piece of chick pop saved (and I mean SAVED, I don’t care what the other hits were), by the devastating “Someone Like You”. 25 is a great pop product, heralded by one of the smartest first singles in musical history, the unblinking return to the fold “Hello”, which smashed through any question as to her return to the charts. Saturday Night Live had that skit where a family fight was saved by playing the song. It was all true. Her 2015 performance at Radio City Music Hall found Donald Trump cutting the line to get in, though Adele implied she supported Hillary Clinton Monday night. “Skyfall” is the best Bond song since “Diamonds Are Forever”… and if you think that’s easy, have a word with Sam Smith. The seventeen song set includes everything you want to hear and lots you don’t: she doesn’t dole out the hits, there are only three albums, we know them all by heart. Nicole Giovia reviewed Adele at Philadelphia (here) and delves deeply into the contours of the set, while my feeling was, not unlike the Spice Girls gig I mentioned earlier, that this was not for me. I don’t want to be a jerk, still there was a pajama party quality which I am not qualified to do more than shrug about. Adele might be iconic, and heartbreak might be a female province (women cry, men kill themselves without tears). It’s a sharing thing… that I don’t share. After a while it is like having a friend who calls you late at night to discuss her latest break up, you want to tell her to stop being a moaning minnie and move on, and yet there you sit tutting for hours on end. I tutted a lot. And I got irritated, as amusing as Adele could be.

Musically, the evening was fun.  I dislike so many songs yet glided by them to luxuriate in set opener “Hello”, a thoroughly invigoration one two, first a  terrific cover of Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” followed by the brilliant “Send My Love (To Your New Love)”, midset, a very very dramatic “Skyfall” (though that was offset by an interminable story as to how she came to write it, a story I’d read in the press last year), an intoxicated “Rumor Has It” and a huge singalong to “Someone Like You” -a song she gave back to her fans, since it no longer applied to her. That song changed her life, and it is one of the best songs of the 2010s, a heart wrenching track that builds to “for me, it isn’t over”.  About another song, Adele made one of the few interesting comments about her life: “I thought I left the relationship on top, but did I really? I’m still singing about him”. This ambivalence is true artistry, it is endlessly fascinating, the intersection between love, ache, fame, fortune, past, present: and it just pushed through the private to the public. Adele understands that when a song is embraced on the level “Someone Like You” is,  it no longer belongs to anyone really, or rather, it belongs to everyone who needs it.

Amy died, Lily couldn’t come back, and Adele disappears in plain sight, she is the star who isn’t defined by her stardom, and she is an everywoman that other women love. Men? Yeah, what the heck, we love her as well.

Grade: B

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