Adele Adkins apologised at the outset of her gig that she hadn’t slept. Oh no – was the 19-year-old Londoner touted as the new Amy Winehouse taking the comparison a little too literally? It turned out not. An early morning appearance on breakfast television was to blame for the tiredness, not a night of Winehousian bacchanalia.
The pressure on Adele to follow in Winehouse’s high-heeled footsteps, musically at least, is a cruel burden for a teenage newcomer to bear. Yet her meteoric rise from stage school wannabe to tyro diva owes a great deal to Winehouse’s success. Heralded as the sound of 2008 and recipient of a Brit Award a month before her debut album even came out, Adele – surname presumptuously jettisoned in the manner of Kylie or Beyoncé – is being fast-tracked to the top. It is at once an enviable and an unenviable position to be in.
A chatty, personable stage performer, she gave the impression of coping admirably with the expectation. But as she ran through the tracks on her album, 19, signs of a more fragile confidence emerged, such as her look of unease when standing singing. She visibly relaxed when sitting on a stool, which allowed her to concentrate on dominating the stage with her powerful voice.
She opened with “Daydreamer”, accompanying herself solo on acoustic guitar and singing in a gauche combination of dreaminess and exhibitionism, low reflective croons alternating with baroque flights of fancy. The gaucheness was appealing in a teenage sort of a way, though more serious shortcomings soon presented themselves.
“Chasing Rainbows”, an orchestral pop-soul number played with an eight-strong band, was over-amplified and top-heavy with choruses, Adele bludgeoning rather than touching us with her singing. “First Love”, a tender tale of puppy love set to a simple childlike melody, was wrecked by another gust of force-10 vocals.
An attractively melancholy ode to London, “Hometown Glory”, sung in the smoky, regretful style of one who is old before her time, and the retro jazz-pop of “My Same”, which featured light-hearted scat singing, gave a sense of Adele’s versatility. But she is far from the finished article. At times too raw, at other times too slick, she may be the sound of some future year, but not this one.
Adele plays the Classic Grande in Glasgow on February 2