For 60 minutes Sunday night at the Gallivan Center, Salt Lake City felt like the heart of the pop universe thanks to Adele. The British singing sensation was in fine form both vocally and with irreverent, light-hearted chatter with an adoring audience. Some of the songs were more popular with the audience than others - they were definitely there for the hits, but it was obvious many people were blown away by her presence and performance.
The 23-year-old singer has had arguably the best 2011 of anyone in the music biz and continues to move massive quantities of her January release, "21." She also reportedly sold the additional 4,000 new tickets released for her Gallivan show after February's cancellation at The Depot in less than an hour. The bad news? Her new album's a bit less R&B and it's poppier than some of her earlier work. Meanwhile, she largely splits the difference among the competing interests during her live set.
The results are the crowd gets wonderful Americana-flavored songs like "Right As Rain," and "If It Hadn't Been For Love" along with pop-as-can-be pablum like "Set Fire To The Rain." What's interesting is her biggest song, "Rolling In The Deep" comes down on both sides of the roots vs. pop divide with its killer, old-school soul verses and its catchy-as-a-cold chorus. And Adele and "Deep," are so popular that when she introduced the song as her last, but didn't name it, a large part of the crowd easily answered her challenge to sing its first verse. You simply don't see that every day.
Quibbles aside, Adele's voice more than matched the hype Sunday night. It's a gorgeous, soulful instrument with strong range and a tender touch. Her vocal chops were on dazzling display during "Chasing Pavements, "One and Only," and the emotional Dylan cover, "Make You Feel My Love." Adele's wit and charm were also brought to bear as she continually chatted with the crazed crowd in the front and sipped on tea in a mug she promised to give to an audience member.
Another thing about Adele worth knowing: She apparently connects with many, many people on a deep, personal level. I literally saw people from the ages of 5 to about 60 singing along to her lyrics - and not just the hits - and more than one person was crying during different songs. You don't see that every day of the week either. You also don't see such heartfelt, airy covers as her version of The Cure's "Love Song."
And hats off to Adele for booking the "First Lady of Rock 'n' Roll," Wanda Jackson as the opener. While the 73-year-old Oklahoman's heavenly, 45-minute blast of '50s-style rock didn't sweep away the crowd, those of us who are Jackson fans enjoyed every growl, yodel and yarn. Since her show here last March, Jackson's cover of the recently passed away Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good," has taken on a melancholy air, but is still highly effective. Mix that in with her own "Funnel of Love," and "Fujiyama Mama," and Jackson delivers a smoldering, rocking set, in no small part thanks to her backup band, Seattle's The Dusty 45s.
As good as it was, Jackson's set was likely an afterthought for many as people were too busy being floored by Adele's songs and that voice. One gets the feeling Adele's going to be at the center of the pop world for some time to come. But here's hoping she keeps mining her glorious roots along the way.
Follow Salt Lake Magazine arts/entertainment writer Scott Murphy on Twitter @murphyinfo.