Adele finally takes to the stage at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas later this month, and will remain there for a long time. She will play 32 times to a total of 137,000 fans during her residency at the hotel and casino’s 4,300-seat Colosseum between now and March, which is a lot of appearances to fill the equivalent of two stadiums.
It has also brought her grief. Adele outraged many ticket-holders by cancelling a planned residency there earlier this year, unhappy that the stage set was too impersonal for her torch songs. “There was just no soul in it . . . It was very disconnected from me and my band, and it lacked intimacy,” she told Elle magazine.
But we can safely assume that she knows what she is doing, and that a Colosseum residency, alongside casino crowd-pullers such as Sting and Rod Stewart, is a smarter bet than a tour of bigger venues. She is not alone: Harry Styles played 15 times at Madison Square Garden in New York this year, on a US tour that covered 42 dates in only five cities.
Residencies used to be more hip replacement than hip. Sammy Davis Jr had to cancel a residency to have the operation, and Frank Sinatra sang at Las Vegas into his late seventies. Their reputation was rescued by Céline Dion in the early 2000s, followed by Britney Spears and Katy Perry. Adele and Styles are taking them further in a youthful direction.
It is a steady weekend gig for Adele, rather than hauling around the world with a huge set, and Las Vegas is only a short flight from Beverly Hills, where she lives with her 10-year-old son. Even for a practised professional, there is some comfort in playing the same place each week; one perk of superstardom is being able to make the audience come to you.
She must also have her eye on the economics. The bulk performance approach of bands such as The Rolling Stones, which last year grossed $72mn from eight US stadium shows in front of 340,000 people on their No Filter tour, brings in huge revenues for top acts. Adele herself played two nights at Hyde Park in London in July. But it has growing weaknesses in an inflationary time.
Touring has become very expensive. Transport and energy prices have increased sharply, even for small bands that go on the road with a van or two, hoping to make up for minuscule streaming income. “The big problem is that so many bands are now touring,” says Andrew Leff, assistant professor of music practice at the University of Southern California.
Some well-known singers, including Demi Lovato and Little Simz, have cancelled tours this year. “I want to tell you that for me it has taken a toll through anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, vertigo, chronic pain and missing crucial time with my children,” the singer Santigold wrote to fans as she called off a tour in September.
Even superstars have to watch the bills. Bands such as U2 and Coldplay tour with spectacular and expensive sets conceived by top set designers including Es Devlin, who worked on Adele’s first Colosseum residency set. Moving them between venues, together with sound and electrical equipment and huge crews of technicians, can take 30 trucks and several aircraft.
They bring to life an artist in the distance in a stadium, but they come with a hefty price tag. Top acts get about 80 per cent of net revenues from playing live, often with a guaranteed minimum. This does not mean that The Rolling Stones pocketed the bulk of the $72mn gross: all these costs weigh on bands’ profits.
But residencies are not just a way to economise. They also have the appeal that Adele cited after cancelling her original shows: they provide intimacy. Watching and listening to a star in a smaller venue is a more valuable experience than sitting in a stadium.
This is clear from Adele’s Las Vegas prices. Tickets for the prime seats closest to the Colosseum stage were being resold this week for more than £10,000 on platforms such as Viagogo and StubHub, while others were priced at about £1,000. Adele will only receive a split of the original ticket prices, but it validates her instinct to get close to her fans.
The financial return on musical intimacy is rising. Ticketmaster, which quickly sold out of official tickets for Adele’s residency, is now using dynamic pricing, increasing prices on in-demand tickets in real time. Its parent company Live Nation Entertainment expects to shift $500mn more to artists this year from higher prices.
Many artists used to resist such price discrimination. “I don’t see how carving out the best seats and charging a lot more for them has anything to do with rock and roll,” Tom Petty once remarked. But technology, the rise of secondary ticketing platforms and the realisation that they were giving away surplus value to scalpers have changed a lot of minds.
So it is not surprising that stars now overlook the tired past of residencies. They involve a couple of nights’ work a week in a familiar setting with limited travel and lower costs, in front of devoted fans who will pay top dollar to be near to them. An arduous tour of stadiums shifts more tickets but Las Vegas is a profitable weekend home.