adele returns to the stage in las vegas resolute and reflective

Adele Returns to the Stage in Las Vegas, Resolute and Reflective

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Dion pioneered the 21st-century Vegas pop star residency when, in 2003, she began her career-spanning four-year blockbuster, “A New Day.” But “Weekends With Adele” is a distinct evolution of the formula. Adele could have easily booked an international arena or stadium tour in support of her most recent album, “30,” which, in the United States and many other countries, was the best-selling album of 2021. Instead, she’s asking audiences to come to her, in a theater that holds about 4,000 attendees, bypassing the complications of touring in the Covid era and minimizing the disruption to her family’s life in nearby Los Angeles. (Other stars with similar gravitational pull, like Harry Styles, have been arranging their tours as a series of residencies, a model that tends to reward fans willing and able to spend top dollar on tickets and travel.)

“Weekends With Adele” never quite felt like a promotional vehicle for “30,” though. Of the 20 songs on the set list, only five were from the new album, and its most emotionally wrenching material — the devastating vocal showcase “To Be Loved,” the searingly personal “My Little Love” — were nowhere to be found. Instead, she seemed to be most fully inhabiting the material from her breakout 2011 album, “21.”

She introduced the fiery breakup ballad “Take It All” as her favorite song from that LP, while the night’s vocal highlight was a masterful rendition of the yearning “One and Only,” a mid-tempo track about devoting oneself to a true love, during which Adele seemed to be living each word. She was at her least distinct on the more upbeat songs from “25”: “Send My Love (to Your New Lover)” and “Water Under the Bridge” both got the crowd on its feet, but she still seemed unsure how to inject her own personality into such generic pop fare.

The show, Adele said, is meant to “grow” as it progresses, and its developments were beautifully paced and often stunning in their reveals. “Set Fire to the Rain” was accompanied by a quintessentially Vegas waterfall and dazzlingly elaborate pyrotechnics that involve a prop piano, and then half of the set, going up in flames, staging so gloriously over-the-top that it was giving Book of Revelations.

For “Skyfall,” her Oscar-winning theme song from the James Bond movie of the same name, a full orchestra was suddenly illuminated from a previously dark part of the stage set. Concertgoers were not discouraged from using their phones, and the stage certainly seemed designed to look good in FOMO-inducing photographs. But the space, and the show itself, also felt satisfyingly immersive in a way that didn’t translate onto a smaller screen. Here, perhaps, was that elusive intimacy that Adele had been chasing.

The most emotionally effective part of the night came near the end, when Adele performed the brassy, Streisandian slow-burner “When We Were Young.” To introduce the song, she (and a cadre of handlers) made her way through the crowd, asking a few lucky audience members about their favorite memories from their youth, and, in the process, making the case that she’d be a better-than-average Oscar host.

While she was still walking the aisles, the band began playing the song and Adele sang it gorgeously, winding through the orchestra section to wave to different parts of the crowd and, occasionally, embrace her fans. She hugged an ecstatic Adele drag queen, and, at the soaring climax of the song, paper photographs of young Adele Adkins from Tottenham fluttered like confetti from the rafters. A diva, yes. But — in the right room, and for the right ticket price — the sort you can reach out and touch.

“Weekends With Adele” continues through March 25 at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.