After missing her previous NYC performances, and only catching her at the Levi's FADER Fort for a brief acoustic set, this would mark my first time to see Amy Winehouse at a proper gig. This was almost my first time to experience one of the Big Apple's newest venues, the Highline Ballroom. Centered smack dab in the middle of the meat packing district, it has a slightly pretentious vibe and very mediocre sound. Consider me unimpressed.
Once we enjoyed quick bit of dinner, our group high-tailed it over to Highline hoping that we hadn't missed any of Winehouse's set. She was scheduled to take the stage at 9pm, we walked in around 9:20, and found an empty stage. In fact, Miss Winehouse waited until nearly 10pm to begin the show. She was backed by Brooklyn's Dap-Kings, who are normally the backing band for Sharon Jones. Complete with trumpet, tenor sax, baritone sax, two guitars, keys, drums & bass, they perfectly complimented the soulful songs of the evening.
The set was peppered with material from both of her albums, 2003's Frank and this year's Back To Black. As expected, she seemed a bit schnockered, as well as a bit uncomfortable in front of the packed crowd. The first few songs came from her debut, which I am not familiar with, but it was cool seeing the group of women standing to my right flipping out, singing along to every word. Winehouse seemed to finally relax a bit when she got to "You Send Me Flying (Cherry)," loosening her grip on the mic stand and shimmying around just a little.
For some reason, Winehouse's dress was driving her mad. She attempted to get the attention of her tour manager, as she was wanting to change clothes during the middle of her set. All she wanted was her jeans, but that had to wait until the encore. Slight awkwardness and intoxication aside, the one thing that stood out from the evening was that voice. Her smoky, jazzy voice sounds just as powerful live as it does on tape. She smoothly sang through "Just Friends" and "Love Is A Losing Game," adding just enough vocal improvisation to send the occasional chill down my spine. Yeah, that woman can sing.
In addition to the band, she brought along two backup vocalists, who had choreographed moves for every song of the night. The men's finger snaps and dance steps gave "Tears Dry On Their Own" a cool Motown vibe. Winehouse ended her set with an oddly sped-up rendition of her single, "Rehab," during which the dancing fellas had a hell of a time keeping up to the tempo. It was as if she really, really needed off the stage for a few moments. When she returned for the encore, she finally got to change clothes. Now dressed in jeans, she gave her finest performance of the night, "Me And Mr. Jones." She, for once, commanded the stage, slinking around and giving the occasional hip thrust as she asked "what kind of fuckery are we?"
Amy Winehouse is definitely a unique performer. She drinks like a rocker, sings like a jazzy lounge performer, and seems to teeter on the edge of utter destruction while on stage. Regardless, it made for a very entertaining evening. The setting may have been off, but the show was still quite a good one.