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Adele Returns to the Stage in Las Vegas, Resolute and Reflective

LAS VEGAS — Adele has become a titanically successful superstar by presenting herself as something of an oxymoron: a relatable diva.

In one breath, the 34-year-old British musician will bellow a gale-force note that could shake a building’s foundation; in the next, she’ll mutter a colorful swear in her Tottenham accent. Her nails are always immaculately manicured, and she’s usually waving them around to self-deprecatingly swat away something goofy she’s just said.

To be a diva is to maintain a certain aura of unapproachability. Adele maintains a degree of remove around her personal life, especially between albums, but her public persona and her relationship with her fans are also predicated on the idea that she is someone with whom you could share a glass, or perhaps more accurately a bottle, of wine.

So there was cognitive dissonance when, in January, Adele canceled her much-publicized Las Vegas residency just 24 hours before opening night. Some ticket holders had already traveled there; others had booked flights and hotels around upcoming shows. The set and production design were not up to her standards, Adele told fans in a tearful Instagram video, placing some blame on pandemic delays. This was diva behavior, perhaps, hardly of the down-to-earth variety people have come to expect from Adele. But, in an August interview, she said it was still the right decision: “The stage setup wasn’t right. It was very disconnected from me and my band, and it lacked intimacy.” She called the debacle “the worst moment in my career, by far.”

On Friday night, almost a year belatedly, Adele took the Colosseum stage at Caesars Palace, reintroducing herself with a thundering rendition of — what else?— “Hello.” “It looks just like what I imagined it would look like, and it’s perfect,” she said, tearing up for what would be the first of several times throughout the two-hour show. “I’m so scared and I’m so nervous,” she added, “but I’m so happy.”

Adele’s stage is breathtaking, full of drama and elegance befitting her voice: Flanked by two tall panels that formed the shape of an “A,” it contracted for moments of unshowy minimalism, and then instantly exploded with Vegas spectacle. She emerged for the opening number accompanied solely by a white grand piano and her longtime pianist, Eric Wortham II. But when she belted out the first chorus, the full IMAX-like panorama of the space suddenly became illuminated with floor-to-ceiling video monitors capturing Adele in close-up. An awed audience roared.

“It might be a bit wobbly tonight, because me nerves are out of control,” Adele, in a floor-length black gown, warned the audience. That was most apparent on “Hello” and the next song, her 2021 hit “Easy on Me,” when she relied a bit too heavily on encouraging the crowd to sing her lyrics back to her. (She last toured in 2016 and 2017, in support of her 2015 album, “25.”) She settled in during the next pair of songs, the torchy, fan-favorite piano ballads “Turning Tables” and “Take It All.”

With the next song, her latest single “I Drink Wine,” the stage was bathed in twinkling gold and Adele’s band appeared. It gave the rest of the show an understated but dependable backbone, supporting the singer through faithful, often note-for-note renditions of her recorded fare. (At least during the songs, spontaneity was not the aim; the only time Adele flubbed a lyric — during the stirring “Hold On,” she admitted — was when she tried to get fancy with a little improvisation.)

Between numbers, she did crowd work (“Where have all you lot been?” she asked a few latecomers. “Have you been at a pool party?”), cracked expletive-laden jokes and confided some personal asides. “I feel like Celine Dion,” she said with a laugh, invoking the godmother of the Caesars Palace residency. “That’s the only reason I wanted to sing in here, was because of her.”

Dion pioneered the 21st-century Vegas pop star residency when, in 2003, she began her career-spanning four-year blockbuster, “A New Day.” But “Weekends With Adele” is a distinct evolution of the formula. Adele could have easily booked an international arena or stadium tour in support of her most recent album, “30,” which, in the United States and many other countries, was the best-selling album of 2021. Instead, she’s asking audiences to come to her, in a theater that holds about 4,000 attendees, bypassing the complications of touring in the Covid era and minimizing the disruption to her family’s life in nearby Los Angeles. (Other stars with similar gravitational pull, like Harry Styles, have been arranging their tours as a series of residencies, a model that tends to reward fans willing and able to spend top dollar on tickets and travel.)

“Weekends With Adele” never quite felt like a promotional vehicle for “30,” though. Of the 20 songs on the set list, only five were from the new album, and its most emotionally wrenching material — the devastating vocal showcase “To Be Loved,” the searingly personal “My Little Love” — were nowhere to be found. Instead, she seemed to be most fully inhabiting the material from her breakout 2011 album, “21.”

She introduced the fiery breakup ballad “Take It All” as her favorite song from that LP, while the night’s vocal highlight was a masterful rendition of the yearning “One and Only,” a mid-tempo track about devoting oneself to a true love, during which Adele seemed to be living each word. She was at her least distinct on the more upbeat songs from “25”: “Send My Love (to Your New Lover)” and “Water Under the Bridge” both got the crowd on its feet, but she still seemed unsure how to inject her own personality into such generic pop fare.

The show, Adele said, is meant to “grow” as it progresses, and its developments were beautifully paced and often stunning in their reveals. “Set Fire to the Rain” was accompanied by a quintessentially Vegas waterfall and dazzlingly elaborate pyrotechnics that involve a prop piano, and then half of the set, going up in flames, staging so gloriously over-the-top that it was giving Book of Revelations.

For “Skyfall,” her Oscar-winning theme song from the James Bond movie of the same name, a full orchestra was suddenly illuminated from a previously dark part of the stage set. Concertgoers were not discouraged from using their phones, and the stage certainly seemed designed to look good in FOMO-inducing photographs. But the space, and the show itself, also felt satisfyingly immersive in a way that didn’t translate onto a smaller screen. Here, perhaps, was that elusive intimacy that Adele had been chasing.

The most emotionally effective part of the night came near the end, when Adele performed the brassy, Streisandian slow-burner “When We Were Young.” To introduce the song, she (and a cadre of handlers) made her way through the crowd, asking a few lucky audience members about their favorite memories from their youth, and, in the process, making the case that she’d be a better-than-average Oscar host.

While she was still walking the aisles, the band began playing the song and Adele sang it gorgeously, winding through the orchestra section to wave to different parts of the crowd and, occasionally, embrace her fans. She hugged an ecstatic Adele drag queen, and, at the soaring climax of the song, paper photographs of young Adele Adkins from Tottenham fluttered like confetti from the rafters. A diva, yes. But — in the right room, and for the right ticket price — the sort you can reach out and touch.

“Weekends With Adele” continues through March 25 at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

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