Adele is a different kind of diva.
Sure, she has the voice to compete with anyone around -- the power and control to match anything from Whitney and Mariah in their prime, the effortless range and clarity of Celine. What sets her apart also may be what makes her so emblematic of these times -- restraint.
You won't catch Adele singing 10 notes when one will do, and you won't find her holding a note to show that she can. On her "21" (XL/Columbia) album, which already has logged eight weeks at the top of the charts this year, Adele takes the directness of the blues and '60s soul and adds some British refinement and contemporary gloss to suit her, but there isn't anything extravagant aside from her luxurious voice.
She extended that potent austerity to her sterling, 90-minute performance at the Beacon Theatre Thursday night, belting out her tightly wound tales of love gone bad next to warmhearted covers of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" and The Cure's "Lovesong." It's telling that Adele has to turn to other songwriters to express love well, while she crafts songs of her own pain so beautifully, but why mess with multi-platinum, Grammy-winning success, right?
Given the elegant restraint of her music, the 23-year-old does need some outlet for release, which comes in her endearingly chatty stage discussions.
If her songs, such as the stunningly simple lament "Take It All," are surgical strikes on the heart, her audience interaction is a dizzyingly scattershot approach that is marvelously unscripted. After the ballad, she explains how singing it still makes her sad and how the breakup still affects her, which drew screams of support.
She then revealed that the ex, who inspired the bulk of "21," has now contacted her. "I wonder why?" the year's biggest star on both sides of the Atlantic says coyly, before letting loose a curse word.
Of course, we probably should thank that guy, even if Adele can't. He inspired some extraordinary songs, which Adele made even more special during her encore.
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She started the tender ballad "Someone Like You" with only her acoustic guitar for accompaniment. "I heard that you're settled down, that you found a girl and you're married now," she sang, letting the stark words hang in the air with her pained delivery. "I heard that your dreams came true. Guess she gave you things I didn't give to you."
Adele followed that with the musical flip side, her No. 1 smash "Rolling in the Deep," where her five-piece backing band and two backup singers got a chance to flex their soul-revue muscles. As her most recognizable line so far, the simple lament "We could've had it all" resonated over the fiery groove, it seemed only fair that it will be the key to her superstar success. Adele's gonna get it all back and more.
WHEN | WHERE Seen Thursday at the Beacon Theatre. She plays again Saturday night at the United Palace Theatre. Sold out, but for last-minute ticket availability, call 212-568-5260 or go to unitedpalaceconcerts.com.