January 29, 2009
Better than: Watching Amy Winehouse frolic a step away from death.
British singer/songwriter Adele Laurie Blue Adkins (known simply as Adele) totes a voice that's dripping with old soul, yet she's only 20. When she took to the stage last night at the Warfield, that voice sounded as crisp, clear and pitch-perfect as it does on her debut album 19 (so named for her age at the time of its recording), a tone that outclasses performers more than twice her age.
There must be something in the water in England to have nourished this young generation of female soul singers, from Estelle and Amy Winehouse to Duffy and Alice Russell. And while Winehouse continues to tread the line between life and death, it's Adele that has emerged as the most surefire bet for longevity. Her sold-out show here cemented this, and the performance surely convinced anyone in the house who might have previously had any doubt.
As we arrived, a selection of prime diva cuts were on offer, including
Jennifer Hudson's "Spotlight," Destiny's Child's "Perfect Man," Candi
Staton's "You Got The Love" and Dolly Parton's "9 to 5." We didn't see
a DJ around and guessed that this playlist could have been personally
picked by Adele; if so, she really loves the self-love anthem "Oops. .
. Oh My!" by Tweet, because it played not once, but twice.
Suddenly, the lights went down and Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" started booming from the stage. We half-expected Adele to saunter on stage and treat us to a few counts of the Bob Fosse-esque choreography from the "Single Ladies" video, which has gone absurdly viral on YouTube, or even to sing a few of the refrains, which she would have absolutely killed, but she waited until the song was nearly over before hopping out in front of us, shoeless and happy. She was joined by a nine-piece band, a lineup that includes three violinists and a cellist.
Heartbreak is one of Adele's most thriving themes in her songs, but she looked ecstatic as she opened with "Cold Shoulder," her excitement overflowing as she beamed, waved and had little fits of running in place. That and her rapid-fire speaking in between songs had us convinced that she was just thrilled to be there, which she confirmed, and was also the only indication of her age.
She would go on to perform every song from 19, picking up the guitar and then the bass to play "Daydreamer" and then "Best For Last." She augmented the set with covers so that she could have enough material to play for 90 minutes. Besides Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love," which is on the album, Adele also brought flawless, individualized versions of "Fool That I Am" by Etta James, "Moving On" by Sam Cooke and "Many Shades of Black" by the Raconteurs. She didn't deliver on a threat to cover the Spice Girls, embarrassing music that she grew up with, but that might have been pretty fabulous in itself.
Her last San Francisco performance was at Bimbo's, a considerably smaller venue, and the warm reception at the Warfield had her hunting for a camera by the end so that she could capture the moment for her MySpace page. She promised to come live here and buy a house someday when she's "made it," and she seems well on her way.
Personal bias: I think Adele's 19 is the most sophisticated album to come from a (then) teenager since Alicia Keys' Songs in A Minor.
Random detail: Adele had great T-shirts fashioned after her songs. "Tired" inspired an "I'm Tired" onesie for babies and "Hometown Glory" spawned a lovely line drawing of London.
By the way: Adele has earned four Grammy nominations this year.