"So, like, what do you actually DO at an Adele concert?"
I asked and received this question many times in the ten months between my purchasing tickets to see Adele at Madison Square Garden and finally attending her concert this past weekend. "I feel like you just sit and cry and drink wine," my friends and I would joke.
Now that I have seen the Queen herself at my favorite venue, I can reveal the truth about what goes on in the audience of an Adele concert. The simple answer to the previous question is this: Yes. You sit for two hours and cry at Adele’s writing and voice and share a $10 glass of wine that resembles a child's juice box, bendy straw and all.
But you also laugh a lot. In cushioned seats wrapped around the Garden stage like the studio audience of a talk show, you listen to Adele's jokes and wish you could hang out with her every night. You hear her insist that everyone sit down, because she wants to sit down, and if she's the only one sitting that will look bad. You listen to her Tottenham stories and her strong accent and her cackling laugh. You watch her walk all the way from the stage to the back of the floor, searching for a fan she saw "get so excited" during the opening song, only to find out that he was grabbing a beer at the very moment she came to take a picture with him. But the most important thing you do as you make your way through the setlist of an Adele concert is remember.
You remember where you were when you first heard her voice ring out hello, it’s me. You flash back to listening to it last October in a rented room in Paris—a room so small that the bed touches the shower touches the window touches the door. And that same week, on the Metro to and from the Latin Quarter, and on repeat for your entire Ryanair flight to Rome. Then, in an Airbnb in Florence with your big sister, confusing the verses as you finish a bottle of the best red wine you've ever tasted. Did you ever make it out of that town where nothing ever happened?
"Hometown Glory" begins, and when the screens scattered around Madison Square Garden suddenly show pictures of lower Manhattan, you think back to your own hometown and where you live now as an adult and what it feels like to constantly be leaving home and attempting to create new homes and trying to remember your roots while also planting new ones but knowing they can only be temporary all while trying to make your parents proud. Just wandering ‘round my hometown. Memories are fresh.
"One and Only" brings you back to driving a Toyota the size of a golf cart down Northville Turnpike on your way home during your senior year of high school with the dense early afternoon sun shining through your window and warming every piece of you and the car. Then, revisiting this song your freshman year of college, begging for someone you were never meant to have. I promise I'm worthy.
"Water Under the Bridge" feels like watching your relationship fall apart. It is still raw today. Say it ain't so, say it ain't so. "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" is about when you pretended you were over it. But you definitely weren’t over it. This was all you, none of it me.
"Million Years Ago" reminds you of your relentless melancholy painting the brown exteriors of tiny trattorias in Siena, Italy. I feel like my life is flashing by and all I can do is watch and cry.
Listening to Adele’s 2011 Brit Awards performance of "Someone Like You" through your headphones before the song was released in the States made you feel cool and deep and sad and important on the bus ride to your junior year of high school. It was your big sister's favorite song before it was the rest of the country's. She loved Adele when they were both 19, younger than you are now. In your mind, this song still belongs to her. You have a vague but touching memory of your sister when “Someone Like You” was new—a memory that’s likely been fabricated in your own mind from a combination of memories of her with piecey brown hair, wearing an old zip-up hoodie, sitting on her feet on a wicker stool in your kitchen, waiting for your mom to finish making vegetable soup, with her right hand holding up her chin and her left tracing her sentences in the air. You picture her freckled hands and fair skin as she sings candidly and vulnerably along to this song in a way you rarely witness from her. You wanted to be everything she was. You still do. Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.
Adele sings “Don’t You Remember” as you are flooded with all of these individual memories and struck by the way that a concert can function as summation of a set period of your life. You live and let these songs narrate like a soundtrack and your concerts become celebrations of all that you have experienced. And when a show’s setlist is as emotional as Adele’s, your memories are inevitably poignant.