'Despite her professed nerves, few artists seem as at ease on-stage as Adele'
Alexandra Pollard
13:06 19th March 2016

"I won't play a festival. You think I'm gonna play a fucking arena? Are you out of your mind?" Adele scoffed to Q Magazine back in 2011. "I'd rather play 12 years at the Barfly than one night at the O2!" Tonight, we're midway through the third of eight sold-out nights at the O2, and Adele has just announced she's headlining Glastonbury.

It was an inevitable ascension, of course - the only realistic option for a musician whose second album achieved such an unprecedented level of success. With weekends and public holidays off, Adele would have had to play at the Barfly for just over 3 years if she wanted to please the same number of fans. And boy does she want to please her fans.

Tonight, Adele spends as much time interacting with the crowd - posing for pictures, asking where they're from, wishing them happy birthday, even bringing them up on stage - as she does performing. Twice, she squats repeatedly around the four edges of her two stages for a good five minutes, a broad grin fixed to her face, in an attempt to allow everyone near her to get a good photo. It' s as though every selfie is a personal apology for those five years of radio silence.

As for the reason she made that statement in the first place - the debilitating, crippling nerves which, she says, have only got worse in recent years - she hides them spectacularly well. In fact, few artists seems as at ease on-stage as Adele, whose exuberant, potty-mouthed giddiness between songs is met with a faultlessly controlled vocal performance once she begins to sing. Perhaps most impressive is that neither incarnation renders the other jarring.

If her prolific selfies were an attempt to ensure fans got enough bang for their considerable buck, so too is tonight's setlist. It's a veritable feast of greatest hits, from appropriate opener 'Hello' - for which Adele rises from underneath the stage, one of a fairly restrained number of theatrical flourishes - to the beautiful and vaguely sinister 'Skyfall', via 'Someone Like You', the song that kickstarted her ascent to superstardom. Despite that song's ubiquity, she sings it as though every word is being thought up before our very eyes.

"This is my equivalent of prison," she jokes as four sheer, semi-opaque walls are lowered around her ahead of 'Chasing Pavements'. "I'm not at all saying that doing a show for you is like prison. That's not what I meant. I just mean I'm trapped." It's just one of many occasions in which Adele ties herself into gloriously tangential knots.

After drawing breath to begin the next song, she stops suddenly and points into the crowd. "Oh my god that's incredible, is someone doing sign language? I haven't seen that before, look! Oh my god that's amazing, innit. Oh fantastic. That's made me a bit emotional. It has." She pauses, her voice wobbling precariously on the edge of tears, before instead unleashing a wicked cackle. "So I could sound terrible for all you know!"

She doesn't. And I think - for all her professed nerves and hesitancy to play these shows at all - that she knows it.

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Photo: WENN