I was also aware that Adele (Adele Laurie Blue Adkins for short) had recently been nominated for four Grammys: Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal, Record Of the Year and Song Of the Year. The Grammy nods didn’t do too much for me as the Academy has not yet regained credibility since the whole Jethro Tull’s choice over Metallica’s . . . And Justice For All in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category in 1989. Am I holding a grudge? You betcha, dammit! This is MUSIC We’re talking about.
I had these two pegged as the latest in the pop barrage from England. Their tunes ran over the credits on all the right TV. shows, could be heard in the background waiting in line at Starbucks. They hadn’t exactly made a splash in my life yet. Pretty low on my personal radar screen.
Tuesday night I got surprised. Twice.
For starters, James Morrison’s songs are more than background noise in a coffee shop. Personal and passionate, delivered with soul that belies his age and demeanor. Morrison writes small love stories with big dreams.
Performing as a trio, backed by electric guitar and keyboards, Morrison on acoustic guitar, the arrangements were subtle and biting. A very smooth combination to match the blend of soul, blues and pop of Morrison’s songwriting. Vocally, Morrison’s range is right up there with anyone’s, gritty and rough at times, silky and seductive when it needed to be. I particularly enjoyed If You Don’t Wanna Love Me. With minimal instrumentation, the vocals were highlighted and the sad story came through with vivid detail. This song changed the chemistry in the room. Well done.
Morrison included a bit of loop work with the help of his guitarist for his last song, Nothing Ever Hurt Like You. Again, I was struck by the passionate and soulful manner in which Morrison delivered this one. With the help of the tape loops, they were able to replicate some of the bigger band feel of the album version of this song and it worked wonderfully. Vocally, Morrison brought to mind other, distinctive voices of Stevie Wonder and John Legend. It was a great way to end his set.
A sidebar here, if I may, regarding the other musicians appearing with the headliners tonight. They were dutifully introduced to the crowd during their respective sets. My understanding of the English language, as spoken by subjects of the Queen, leaves a lot to be desired and therefore, I couldn’t understand a single word when either of them addressed the crowd; either to introduce the band or the next selection. When I look at my notes, admittedly scribbled in the dark, I can barely correlate them to actual words in the language shared by our countries. Therefore, I apologize for not knowing the names of the touring musicians with James Morrison as well as Adele. They did a hell of a job and deserve recognition for their work. The omission of their proper names is directly related to the lack of enunciation in the speaking voices of the musicians they work for as well as my own inability to understand them.
There was also a guy in a New York Yankee hat sitting at the drummer’s right. He smiled throughout the show, seemed to be enjoying himself and all, but what the hell was he doing there? Staring at the crowd, occasionally glancing up to the drummer, he was creepy and distracting. He may have been the drum tech, I don’t know. But sitting on the stage, facing the audience and looking goofy? Anyone else who saw him and was creeped out, let me know. And if he was the drum tech, somebody tell him to get off the stage! I may not have understood Adele’s pronunciation, but I understood enough to know that she didn’t introduce him with the rest of the band.
Adele’s band took the stage first and, after a quick tune check, lit into the intro for Cold Shoulder. Adele hopped up soon after; holding a cup of hot chocolate and made the room her own. Her voice was at once coy and playful. And, I might add, clear as a bell.
For Day Dreamer she picked up the acoustic guitar and settled into her role as entertainer while I settled into mine as the entertainee. I thoroughly enjoyed this tune and came to appreciate Adele as a songwriter through its lyrics. She then helped herself to the bass players instrument and let the band take a rest while she sang Best For Last, another selection from her debut album 19, accompanying herself on bass. The unique treatment of the song as well as the humor of the story it tells was perfect.
After Right As Rain came the evening’s first cover song, a rambunctious rendition of The Raconteurs’ Many Shades Of Black. Her cover version, singing along with The Raconteurs, is the b-side of the single. And her version rocked. Her voice sounded like the song was written for it, dipping and growling and selling the rock and roll.
Another cover toward the end of her set was the Bob Dylan tune To Make You Feel My Love. Now I love this song as done by Dylan or even when Billy Joel tackled it. But this version, not so much. To me, it sounded forced, too slow and she delivered it without the feeling she brought to the first part of her set. Perhaps it’s that they are close to the end of the tour, but the tune just didn’t click. The obligatory band introduction with accompanying mini-solos felt like it didn’t fit, making the reprise of TMYFML almost inappropriate.
She redeemed herself with her performance of Home Town Glory. She sent the band off stage and started solo again. One at a time the band came back onstage, stretching this one out a ways and really getting the crowd back into the performance. What sufficed as an encore (the star ran off for a smoke and quickly returned) was a pretty well put together triad of her soulful Crazy For You followed by yet another cover song (I know I need to give the girl a break. She only has one album under belt and had to flesh out the show), and her Grammy nominated closer, Chasing Pavements. But the cover tune is what snagged me again. She picked a winner with this one, That’s It, I Quit, I’m Movin On, from Sam Cooke. This is another song where Adele’s vocal acuity made the performance. Nailing it, she again had the crowd singing along and eating out of her hand. If I were advising young Miss Adkins, I would tell her to close with this one and slate Pavements mid-set. It was definitely the stronger of the two, with the interplay of the performers showing the potential this group has.
So it was as I exited to the mid winter wet streets, humming Pavements silently in my head. I was a handful of surprises richer than when I had arrived. These two were not simply soldiers in her Majesty’s Royal Pop Brigade, destined to make tweens and soft rock radio very happy for years to come. While others may compare them to their recent predecessors (Blunt, Winehouse, Duffy et al.) Here were a couple of performers making their way through America with well written, intelligent songs. They shared tales personal and passionate and led their audience through a well crafted evening of music.
I even would say that, should Adele snag a statue or two on Grammy night, I may have to reconsider my feeling as to the academy’s ability to judge talent and take at least some of their opinions seriously from that point. Probably not, however. I mean, we’re talking “…And Justice For All” here, am I right?
Rock On Through The Fog,