Fresh from her winning streak at last month’s Brit Awards, U.K. sensation Amy Winehouse dropped into NYC’s Bowery Ballroom last night — the day of her sophomore record release in the U.S. — to give folks a peek at what the buzz is all about. Buzz is the operative word here: in addition to topping the charts back home with her latest album Back to Black, Winehouse is a frequent face in the UK tabloids (and Stateside blogs) due to her unapologetic drunken antics. This is a woman, after all, who sings a song dedicated to her refusal to enter rehab — the aptly titled “Rehab.”
Antics aside, Winehouse has won herself a goodly and ever-growing audience in the U.S. thanks to her modern take on Sixties girl-group pop, R&B and soul. And it doesn’t hurt that her single “Baby I’m No Good” features Ghostface Killah. With her tat-covered forearms and a vaguely trashy beauty-mark piercing, Winehouse may look like she’s fixin’ to make you her prison-house bitch, but her voice is pure Shangri-La’s sugar.
As the lights dimmed to the Cleftones “She’s So Fine” (an obvious nod to the headliner’s Motown inspirations), Winehouse strolled out with her ten-piece backing band, decked out in a skintight black-and-white polka-dot dress (with a visible neon yellow bra underneath), ghetto-gold hoops, five-inch heels, and a teased bouffant that would make Martha Reeves proud. Launching into “Addicted” (from her debut album Frank), Winehouse sashayed and sassed her way through ballads of nighttime dalliances and excess, echoed by a pair of hot male back-up singers who brought to mind the heyday of Guns N’ Roses’ Tracey and Roberta. Winehouse beguiled the packed crowd with four back-to-back songs from the new record, including the heart-wrenching title track “Back to Blac” and the confident anthem “Tears Dry On Their Own.” Taking a sip from her drink (which she did continuously over the course of the night), the singer spoke directly to her bad-girl rep: “I’m not drinking beer! I’m drinking Jack Daniels and lemonade. Besides, ladies don’t drink beer — they chug it.” And later, “What’s that joke? I’ve got a real drinking problem. I keep missing my mouth.” Amen, sister.
Despite — or perhaps in spite of — the tabloid press and her striking looks, Winehouse broke a sweat proving she’s got the goods to back up the notoriously fickle blog hype she’s already accrued. Her vocals mix jazz and hip-hop with the doo-wop she so clearly loves, and her clever lyrics give songs a modern twist. (We doubt the Shirelles would ever rhyme “What kind of fuckery are you?” with “You’re my best Black Jew.” ) But no matter how witty the trappings, topics of love, heartbreak, loss of control, and isolation are eternal. Closing out the show with a rollicking mash-up of two of her strongest songs, the kiss-off spectacular “Me & Mr. Jones” and her current hit “Rehab,” Winehouse was showered with adoring catcalls from the audience — proof positive that New York is officially her bitch.