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Live: Adele at the Hollywood Bowl

June 29, 2009 |  5:48 pm
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"I feel like Beyonce or something!" gushed young English soul singer Adele on Sunday night from the stage of the Hollywood Bowl. "There's so many of you."

Considering her rapid rise to fame, you can understand the feeling. Three years ago, Adele Laurie Blue Adkins was studying music at London's BRIT School for performing arts  and technology; in February she won the Grammy for best new artist.

If we're talking performance style, though, Adele, 21, shares very little in common with the woman occasionally known as Sasha Fierce. Instead of precisely calibrated showbiz sparkle, Adele offers a peek behind the velvet curtain.

Explaining that she'd gotten badly sunburned Sunday afternoon, she admitted that her heavy makeup made her look like a drag queen. And several times she flubbed the lyrics of her songs, then chastised herself for her less than professional memory.

After forcing her five-piece band (plus the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra Strings) to restart "Melt My Heart to Stone" -- which she called her favorite track on her 2008 debut, "19" -- Adele joked, "I wanna say it makes me more real, but I don't think anyone thinks anything else."

The audience, which included "American Idol" runner-up Adam Lambert, affirmed her suspicion with a loving roar.

In a way, of course, that charming guilelessness actually serves as a highly effective bit of stagecraft. Because Adele's just-folks persona prepares you for a just-folks voice, the real thing ends up sounding even more magnificent than it is.

Performing material from "19," as well as several covers and one new tune she said she expected to record for her second album, Adele sang gorgeously throughout her hourlong set Sunday, channeling old-school greats such as Etta James and Sam Cooke but with a street-smart twist that made the music feel like young-person property.

The bait and switch  seemed  to work even on Adele. During "Daydreamer" and "Best for Last," both of which she performed solo, an open look of surprise flashed across her wide face, as if she couldn't believe how effortlessly she was filling the Bowl with sound.

Adele was scheduled to share Sunday's show -- her final American date in support of "19" with James, whom Adele called her favorite singer while introducing a lovely version of "Fool That I Am."

 James canceled due to last-minute illness, so Chaka Khan took her place, turning in a tidy set of durable R&B gems ("Ain't Nobody," "I Feel for You," "Tell Me Something Good") that have somehow grown no less appealing through the decades.

Assigning herself to melisma duty while her three backing vocalists took on the song's melody, Khan made you wonder if, like AIG or GM, "I'm Every Woman" is simply too big to fail.

Janelle Monae, a well-connected protege of both Sean "Diddy" Combs and OutKast's Big Boi, began her opening set by proclaiming, "I am an alien from outer space." That seems doubtful, though, as no alien would need to try as hard as Monae did to demonstrate its eccentricity.

Though she sang well and her band skirted the edges of an interesting soul-punk fusion, Monae offered nothing of substance Sunday to match her insufferably precious sense of style.

Sasha Weird: Please phone home.

--Mikael Wood

Photo credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times

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