BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
The last time Adele performed in Atlanta, Flo Rida ruled the charts and she was still playing cozy venues such as the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and the Variety Playhouse here.
That was March 2009.
After a couple of heartbreaking cancellations in 2011 – first at the Tabernacle, then the Fox Theatre — due to vocal cord issues, many fans wondered when, if, where and how they might ever see Adele on a live stage again.
No surprise that tickets for her two Philips Arena concerts vanished within 30 minutes of going on sale in December, resulting in a lot of envious Adele-worshippers when she finally returned to Atlanta Friday night for the first of her pair of shows.
The hysteria usually reserved for shaggy-haired boy band stars or, perhaps, Barbra Streisand, greeted Adele as she rose on a platform from underneath the square “B” stage erected at the back of the arena floor, her buttery voice slicing through – appropriately – “Hello.”
Dressed in the sparkly ball gown that has been her uniform throughout the tour supporting her mega-selling “25” album – Friday marked her 97th show date – Adele looked luminous.
She hustled from point “B” to point “A” – the main stage – not with a fancy flyover, but a simple walk with a bodyguard on a path cut through the crowd on the floor.
Her practical method of moving between the two stages (she would return to the back much later in the two-hour show) embodied her very Adele-ness.
Her songs are sumptuous treats, tinged with strings and dripping with melody – very old-school approaches in an increasingly techno-cold music world.
Her humor is warm and self-deprecating and even though some of her stage banter is obviously structured, there is still always the feeling that you never know what might come out of her mouth next – but it will likely be punctuated with a giggle and the occasional curse word.
Even her main stage, which initially features a gargantuan V-shaped screen (the better to show scenes of London and downtown Atlanta in all of its gridlocked splendor during “Hometown Glory”) before rising to spotlight her sprawling band and mini-orchestra, is empty except for a floor fan near her feet.
Despite her massive voice – a flawless instrument on this night – Adele is a minimalist.
Close-ups on the video screens captured her shoulder-length hair swinging as she leaned away from the microphone for one cascading note after another, her mouth twisting and her face contorting.
Adele practically did a jig around the stage when greeting fans for the first time and asking in her rapid-fire English accent, like an old buddy, “Didjahaveagoodweek?”
In between the stomping defiance of “Rumour Has It” and the gently percolating “Water Under the Bridge,” Adele led the audience in a birthday singalong for one fan and brought others (an adorably trembling 10-year-old and her mom) onstage … just because she could.
Extensive background stories about the creation of songs and comical asides (“If you need to go to the bar, I won’t be offended,” she allowed) were frequent, but, with a 17-song set list, so were the musical highlights.
“Skyfall” soared with its combination of haunting pacing and the melodramatic strings that are a hallmark of many memorable James Bond movie themes. An acoustic set began with Adele demonstrating how she finally figured out how to comfortably perch on her chair before she and her two guitarists unwrapped the wistful “Million Years Ago”; the Alison Krauss-inspired “Don’t You Remember” from her second album, “21”; and her sweet version of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.”
A paean to son Angelo, the arm-swaying “Sweetest Devotion” prefaced her return to the secondary stage, where she spent several minutes hilariously crouching on each side so fans could snap selfies, all the while carrying on a conversation about “The Walking Dead” and her “disastrous” attempt at twerking.
Full-throated renditions of “Chasing Pavements” – her 2008 U.S. breakthrough – and the song she said changed her life (it was originally written on guitar, but “it wasn’t heartbreaking enough”), the gut-wrenching “Someone Like You” roused the crowd, which sang along heartily.
Although an Adele concert is devoid of the props and trappings of many of her peers – and really, it’s almost impossible to believe that someone so poised is only 28 – she has a couple of “oh, cool!” moments during “Set Fire to the Rain” and the show-closing “Rolling the Deep” (souvenir, anyone?).
Before heading into her final stretch of songs, Adele addressed the audience with genuine emotion and honesty.
“I will go away again, but I will come back again,” she promised.
Deep breath that it isn’t another seven year wait.
Adele returns to Philips Arena Saturday, Oct. 29. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., the show begins shortly after 8 p.m. There is no opening act. The concert is sold out.
Set list from her Friday, Oct. 28 concert:
“One and Only”
“Rumour Has It”
“Water Under the Bridge”
“I Miss You”
“Million Years Ago”
“Don’t You Remember”
“Make You Feel My Love”
“Send My Love (to Your New Lover)”
“Someone Like You”
“Set Fire to the Rain”
“When We Were Young”
“Rolling in the Deep”