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There was only ever going to be one way for Adele to open her long-awaited homecoming gig. Fresh from her sit-down with Oprah airing on the other side of the Atlantic, the singer kicked off her ITV special, a mixture of songs and charming chit-chat filmed at the Palladium last month to celebrate the release of her new album 30, with Hometown Glory.
Released back in 2008, it’s the song where it all began, and hearing the cascading opening piano chords of her ode to London felt strangely comforting (see, she’s not gone all LA on us!), a full circle moment. Up next was Hello (her usual set-opener, for obvious reasons), which has lost none of its power “after all these years” of ubiquity, before it was time to greet the audience - and what an audience. What can only be described as an eclectic mix of celebrities were packed into the Palladium’s stalls, with Jodie Comer bopping alongside Andrew Lloyd Webber, Dua Lipa next to Dawn French, Michael Macintyre sneaking into shot behind Idris Elba, Emma Thompson having the greatest night of her life and Stormzy mouthing along to Someone Like You. It was like the most chaotic Graham Norton Show line-up of all time (Norton was there too, obviously).
The ‘Audience With…’ format is a slightly stilted one, alternating straightforward performance segments (although this is Adele, so “straightforward” is something of an understatement - there is nothing straightforward about these vocal acrobatics) with question and answer sessions, the singer fielding extremely softball enquiries from the A-listers sitting in the stalls. It fell to her pal Alan Carr to ask the only genuine zinger: if one of Adele’s exes was to turn the tables and write a song about her, what would it sound like? “Nobody like you,” she quipped, before suggesting that “most of them couldn’t even do a normal daily task,” let alone write a platinum-selling sad banger.
Still, the singer has more than enough charisma and candour to ease things along - it’s hard to imagine any other star of her level introducing Samuel L. Jackson with a shout of “Oi oi!” or admitting that her tights are getting “all baggy in the crotch” - and tells anecdotes like she’s regaling a bunch of friends in the pub. In a world where every other celebrity has a podcast, it seems particularly cruel that Adele does not and probably never will (I need to know more about the “real moment with the ocean and God and all sorts” that she shared with Stormzy).
Even the show’s more obviously engineered moments managed to pack an emotional punch, like when a question from Thompson (fresh from dragging most of her row onto their feet during Rolling In The Deep) about her mentors growing up segued into a very sweet special appearance from the star’s secondary school English teacher, who she’d last seen as a 13-year-old. “Can I get your number?” a stunned, tearful Adele asked, before insisting Carr take to the stage for a moment while she had her dissolving make-up touched up.
As charming as the chatter might have been, though, we’d tuned in for, well, tunes. Thankfully, Adele obliged with a set list that leaned more heavily on hits than new material (although tracks from 30 like lead single Easy on Me - despite the singer, ever the perfectionist, re-starting halfway through the first verse - Hold On and I Drink Wine slotted in seamlessly).
Often it’s difficult for a filmed concert to capture the magic of being in the room where it happens, but Adele operates on such a strong emotional frequency that it’s impossible not to be drawn into the miniature psychodrama of each song (when she performs tracks from 30, inspired by the fallout from the breakdown of her marriage, you might find yourself gearing up to call a divorce lawyer, whether or not you’ve ever been married).
Someone Like You is always a special moment in an Adele set, a song that never fails to unites an audience; putting it in the penultimate slot on the setlist inevitably means that the final track feels a bit like an afterthought, as Love Is A Game, a standout track from 30, did here. Still, you imagine, that’s rather a nice problem for Adele to contend with. This was a triumphant return from an artist at the very top of her game, who still manages to feel like your mate from school - it’s wonderful to have her back.
An Audience With Adele is available to stream on the ITV Hub