Not really wanting to compare the Rolling Stones and Adele, there being a couple of generations, an ocean of stylistic difference and one or two attitudinal divisions in that one. But still, elsewhere this week – see The Right Note - talking about the Stones in the context of their new blues album, I was discussing how the best gig I’ve seen them play was not one of the massive spectacles and hits-filled stadium shows but the Enmore Theatre show where they played to 1500 and did nothing more spectacular than bring on (superfluous) members of AC/DC for a jam.
The point of this isn’t a boast about being at that super rare show, nor even about how they were at their best when they were at their essence as a glorified blues bar band. That’s pretty obvious on both fronts. What intrigues me is how even as much as I disliked – and at times loathed – the stadium shows I could see why they worked and how the Stones made that work. Big gestures, big sound, big songs – the execrable Start Me Up might even have a place in this show – and big reactions.
Which brings me to Adele. A singer, not a band. A solo singer of ballads, not a belter of booming rock songs. A woman known for the tone of her voice and her intimacy, not for her hands-in-the-air, rocking the bleachers numbers.
She is as like the Stones as I am like Bruno Mars. So why the hell is she playing 70,000, 80,000, 90,000-capacity stadiums on her Australian tour? Why are fans being forced to hear and watch her from a distance and via a screen? Why are her songs of desolation and devastation, revenge and resurrection of hope being treated the same way Bon Jovi’s pseudo-working class anthems, the Stones strutting pomp and Taylor Swift’s formation dancing and flashing lights pop are?
I’ve seen Adele once, briefly, and she was backed only by a piano and needed nothing more than the piano. It was in an arena seating some 20,000 but it felt smaller and focused enough. I was some distance away and would have dreaded being any further back.
This time of course there’ll be a band but the dynamics won’t be that much different. She won’t be dancing. She won’t be running out into the audience via a runway. She won’t be swinging over on a crane, climbing the speakers or stage diving.
Adele is so obviously a theatre show that would have to be geared up for an arena – I’m not suggesting she should be doing 2000-3000 seat rooms, as perfect as that would be for fans – and that’s understandable and acceptable. You can do intimacy of a reasonable sort in an arena of 15-20000. Ask anyone who saw Leonard Cohen.
Putting her on in rooms like that would balance high demand for seats with respect for the kind of music she makes and the kind of performer she is.
But let’s not pretend that there is anything beyond reaping the biggest profit in the shortest time in the massive shows this tour will offer. There is little care for the style of music and performer and little interest in what would be best for fans, except the excuse that this way more will get to see her.
Sure they will, but at the cost of quality of experience. That’s always expendable.