Trying To Get To You

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Amy Winehouse At Joe's Pub

There was a real sense of excited anticipation for Amy Winehouse’s American debut last night at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan. On the heels of a number one album in the U.K. and momentum building for her U.S. album release in March, a downtown scenester audience (and Jay-Z, which stamps any NYC event as officially noteworthy) was there to commune with Amy and hopefully bestow their approval upon her.

Behind a nine piece band (2 guitarists, bassist, drummer, keyboardist and four piece horn section) and with two backup singers, Amy slinked onstage, wearing a little black dress and heels with her hair in a style that I can only call “Ronnie Spector meets the Bride of Frankenstein.” Sporting a right arm covered in two tattoos of 40’s style pinup girls and with a drink in her hand, she seemed a little nervous, but in control of herself.

What immediately became apparent is that Miss Winehouse has pipes and talent to burn. Her voice is strong, rich and supple onstage, and she’s charismatic enough to keep command of the crowd. She’s immensely likable; nothing struck me as phony about her. What’s missing right now is any sense of professionalism; in the U.K., she’s as well known for her love of the bottle as she is for her music, and last night she was knocking back Amaretto Sours one after the other, and even taking sips of her drink in between lines of one song. She may want to be a Femme Fatale soul singer, but it seems as though her onstage role model may be Dean Martin at the Sands.

Her band can also use some major work; the drummer played with no real sense of drive and swing, crucial for a great soul show. In general, the band's playing felt very polite, not nearly as powerful as it needed to be. I’m not sure if they were holding back because they have one eye on their playing and one eye on making sure Amy’s holding it together, but the songs felt generally rushed, and the inherent sense of drama in the recorded versions was not apparent at all.

After a fifty-minute set the crowd was very enthusiastic in their applause, but I was left thinking about what the show could have been with a few adjustments. With some slight rearranging, adjustments in pacing and just slowing it all down, Amy Winehouse’s show has the potential to be far more than what she displayed last night. Whether she chooses to take that next step as a performer will determine whether she’ll be an artist of any lasting impact.

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