Thursday, March 22, 2007

I Was There: Amy Winehouse at The Roxy, 3/19/07

I guess you could call it pure, dumb luck. It just so happened that I heard about the Amy Winehouse show at the Roxy a couple of hours before my man Jeff Weiss informed me that she was also scheduled to play at Spaceland. Given my druthers, I would’ve purchased a ticket to see her in the much smaller Spaceland. But in my haste to secure a chance to see this notorious UK train wreck up close and personal like, I’d already laid my good money down for the Roxy show. In hindsight, I inadvertently made the right choice, since Ms. Winehouse famously bailed on the Spaceland gig.

I got to the Roxy a good 20 minutes before she took the stage, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen such an intense scrum up in that joint. It was packed to the back with an interesting array of Los Angelenos, skewing older than I’d expected.

Worming my way towards the front of the room, I found a choice spot maybe five feet from the stage, off to the right. A very drunk girl stumbles into me, pausing to take off her high heels. Oh boy, here we go. An older couple behind me is drunkenly making out, repeatedly ramming into my back. Really? The things I do for music.

When the lights finally dim and the curtains open, a surprisingly together looking Winehouse saunters up to the microphone to the strains of the Chiffons “He’s So Fine,” looking oddly sexy (skinny legs and all) in a blue prom dress that put her cleavage up front and center and showcased her bevy of tattoos. There were no signs of track marks or “meth skin” to be seen anywhere. She didn’t even appear to be drunk. What gives?

Backed ably by retro R&B outfit the Dap-Kings, our girl sailed through most of Back to Black admirably; her husky croon sounding even stronger than it does on the record. Her voice shined on mid-tempo numbers like the reggae-tinged “Just Friends,” but really soared on the barn-burners like “You Know I’m No Good.” What’s especially impressive is the way she attacks high notes, filling them with pure emotion, the total opposite of showboats like Christina Aguilera who completely overdo it with ridiculous trills and runs that never seem to stop.

Sliding in a verse of Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” into “He Can Only Hold Her,” it was hard to miss the irony. Is Winehouse destined for a similar crash-and-burn like the one that beset Ms. Hill? Given her raw talent and limitless potential, I certainly hope not.

She’s comfortable and self-assured onstage. After announcing the evening’s last song to a boisterous chorus of “No!” she joked with the crowd:

“Well, obviously it’s not the last song. We still have to do the encores. I’m just playing the game up here, all right?”

There were a few other interesting, very human moments. She visibly got bored in the middle of a set-closing “Rehab,” only to dig deep and find an inspiration from who knows where to inject the song with a shocking blast of life. It was a moment that completely endeared her to me. She could’ve just as easily dialed it in, since the rabid crowd was eating up her every move, but she didn’t.

By the time I maneuvered my way outside after the show (bumping into Strokes drummer/Drew Barrymore’s ex-boy-toy Fab Moretti along the way), I found myself calling various connections to score a ticket for the Spaceland show. Amy Winehouse was nice enough to see twice. But we all know how that ended up…

(Photo courtesy of the one and only Marc Goldstein. Thanks Marc - you're a prince)