Adele Live: Small Talk, Big Voice

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Aidin Vaziri | Adele really loves to gab. At San Jose’s SAP Center on Saturday night, July 30, performing the first of three sold-out Bay Area shows, the British pop phenomenon spent nearly as much time onstage casually chatting with fans as she did belting out the songs from her three blockbuster albums.

She listed and assessed all the movies she has recently watched, such as “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” and “Fathers and Daughters” —“isn’t it just the saddest film?” she said of the latter. She noted how much she loves to shop at discount department stores. “The first thing I do when I get off the plane is go to Target,” she gushed, in her thick north London accent. She explained, too, that she was allergic to strawberries. “How boring is that?”

Well, since you asked …

On her first ever arena tour, Adele has no problem turning big rooms into intimate spaces. Her smoldering voice, torchy breakup ballads and fluttering eyelashes are familiar and easy to love, as evidenced by the 50-plus million albums they have helped her sell over the past eight years.
But at points, the two-hour set felt just a touch too informal.

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P.S. Adele to critics: Shut up dude, suck my (expletive).

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Andy Shauf, ‘The Party’

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Aidin Vaziri | Andy Shauf is a gentle singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan with a mean wit. On his latest album, “The Party,” he offers beautifully orchestrated vignettes from his perch as a wallflower, spinning out 10 songs that capture the parade of characters and events unfolding before his eyes at an all-night fete. His classic-sounding compositions evoke the likes of Harry Nilsson and “Ram”-era Paul McCartney, while Shauf breathily narrates life’s most awkward moments in silvery tunes like “Early to the Party” and “Quite Like You.” There are traces of his personal hero Elliott Smith in there as well, especially in the way his melancholy moods play off the lush instruments — all of which he incidentally plays himself. This is one soiree you don’t want to miss.

Flume, ‘Skin’

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Aidin Vaziri | Flume is Australia’s biggest electronic music export and remixer to the stars. He has turned songs by the likes of Sam Smith, Arcade Fire and Lorde into wobbly, narcotic down-tempo gems. The 24-year-old producer, born Harley Streten, scored a hit with his self-titled 2012 debut album, which went double-platinum back home and earned him top ranking at festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella. On its follow-up, “Skin,” Flume embraces his crossover appeal, recruiting guests like Beck, Little Dragon and AlunaGeorge while hanging on to the weirdness that sets him apart. There is a broader range of tempo and emotion here, with more focused melodies and vocals — and less introspection all around. It doesn’t carry a consistent mood like the debut, but the potential for breakout hits ramps up significantly, from the album’s big hip-hop moment, “Smoke & Retribution,” featuring Vince Staples, to its lush pop single, “Say It,” featuring Tove Lo.

Radiohead, ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’

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Aidin Vaziri | Thom Yorke is heartbroken, which means he’s even sadder than usual on Radiohead’s new album, “A Moon Shaped Pool.” Another surprise release from the band that started the trend with 2007’s “In Rainbows” (inspiring Beyonce, U2, Drake and more) the new one arrived on May 8 just hours after the group dropped the creepy video for the first single, “Burn the Witch.” Following the dissolution of the singer’s long-term relationship with the mother of his two children, the music is expectedly somber on tunes like “Decks Dark” and the folk-imbued “Desert Island Disk.” It makes for Radiohead’s most cohesive release in recent memory, stylistically and thematically. The album also delivers the ultimate gut punch with its closing track, a twinkling studio recording of the breakup ballad “True Love Waits,” which the band has been kicking around in demo form since 1995: “I’m not living, I’m just killing time.”

Beyonce Rages on Formation Tour

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Aidin Vaziri | Bringing her Formation World Tour to the home of the San Francisco 49ers on Monday, May 16, Beyoncé picked up right where she left off the last time she was at Levi’s Stadium.

She opened the sold-out Santa Clara show with the confrontational, tense “Formation” — the same song she played when she brought the Super Bowl 50 halftime show to a standstill in February while performing alongside Bruno Mars and a bewildered Coldplay.

While the costumes were different — less Black Panthers, more bolero — the tune still served as a potent warning shot: Beyoncé has changed.

The two-hour set wasn’t going to be like those on her previous tours, where she drew the audience into her fantastical world of sleek pop hits, slickly choreographed dance routines and platitudes.

Instead, this was going to be something more real — a messy, pyrotechnics-fueled rampage that saw the 34-year-old singer-songwriter-supernatural force stand in front of 45,000 people and reckon with everyday issues like marital strife, injustice and lost hope.

“Today I regret the night I put that ring on,” Beyoncé belted out scornfully in the new anthem “Sorry,” as her all-female crew of backup dancers defiantly raised their middle fingers.

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Gwen Stefani, ‘This Is What the Truth Feels Like’

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Aidin Vaziri | Gwen Stefani is at her best when her life is turned upside-down. “This Is What the Truth Feels Like,” the No Doubt singer’s latest solo album, arrives after a particularly prolific period of personal drama — husband Gavin Rossdale, the singer of Bush and father of her three children, had an affair with the nanny, sending a devastated Stefani into the loving arms of country singer Blake Shelton, a fellow coach on the NBC singing competition “The Voice.” She doesn’t hold back in new songs like “Make Me Like You” and “Used to Love You,” where she alternately laments and celebrates her romantic travails over effervescent, ’80s-leaning pop. The album is peak Stefani, at once embarrassingly confessional, endearingly wide-eyed and, apart from a few overreaching cuts (we’re looking at you, “Red Flag” and “Naughty”), irresistible through and through.

Justin Bieber at the SAP Center

bieber0316Aidin Vaziri | Justin Bieber is determined to win back his fans — whatever it takes.

On his Purpose world tour, which arrived at the SAP Center in San Jose on Thursday night, the fallen pop idol serenaded them with an acoustic guitar, dazzled them with elaborate dance routines, showed off his drumming skills, did backflips on a trampoline suspended over their heads and fell on bended knee to hold their hands and whisper sweet nothings in their ears.

Oh, and in case that didn’t do the trick, Bieber closed the 90-minute set by ripping off his shirt and walking through a waterfall — yes, right there onstage — as he grabbed his crotch and mouthed the words to his irresistible tropical house hit, “Sorry.”

“I’m so lucky to be doing this,” said the 22-year-old Canadian singer, with as much solemnity as he could muster on the fifth date of the tour, which will hit 58 cities in all (including Oracle Arena in Oakland on Friday, March 18).

Things are looking up for Bieber following a turbulent spell that kept his name in the tabloids for everything from abandoning his pet monkey in a German airport to kicking a member of the paparazzi.

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