First Night: Adele, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Newcomer's towering voice overcomes her nerves
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The Independent Culture

It is five months since Adele Adkins was named the winner of the first Brit Awards Critics Choice, prompting the whirlwind that followed: topping a BBC insiders' poll for the Sound of 2008, a record deal with XL, her first proper single, "Chasing Pavements" going to No 2 in January and her debut album, 19, topping the chart and going platinum. Last night, the hype seemed less blinding as she performed her biggest show to date. And she was nervous, she told us, after arriving on stage, fists clasped with excitement.

"Thanks so much for coming" she gushed. "I feel like I'm going to cry I'm so scared." Not that you'd notice, for the most part. "Daydreamer", for which she was accompanied by just her acoustic guitar, showcased her impressive powerful soul jazz voice. "I don't think I've ever sung to that many people" she said in wonderment, adding: "The tickets sold so long ago I had visions of playing to 10 people."

The poppy numbers were good too; her third single "Cold Shoulder", given the top production treatment by Mark Ronson, was a highlight. "Tired" is also anything but its title – radiant, brought to life with a full band and string arrangements.

Adele, like her female singer-songwriter peers Leona Lewis, Kate Nash and Katie Melua, is a graduate of Croydon's Brit School. While her songwriting and powerful vocals fend off competition from Kate Nash, and her strong soul/jazz voice has been favourably compared to Amy Winehouse, she has not yet secured the self assurance of the Back to Black singer.

When she sings her songs of heartbreak and lost love, she is captivating and holds the crowd's attention. But she is easily distracted by screams from younger members of her audience. In "First Love", which boasts some of her most mature and well-placed lyrics – "I need to taste a kiss from someone new" – laughter threatened to break the spell she has cast over her crowd.

But she has only just turned 20, as the fans starting spontaneous "happy birthdays" already know. Sometimes her chat between songs was self-deprecating and witty and somehow it took any pretension away and made her more natural.

She jumbled up the songs from 19 and threw in a couple of covers. She added little to The Coral's "Dreaming of You" but preceded her version of Etta James's "Fool That I Am" by praising the jazz legend as "my favourite singer ever" and softened her vocal tone. Her version of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" and "Hometown Glory" remain her best and most affecting songs.

"Chasing Pavements", the finale, would have set off a mass singalong if it weren't for the fact we had come to listen to Adele's astounding voice. We look forward to some new material.