Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse
Live at the Mod Club
Toronto ON

Amy, Amy, Amy...she's finally here. In the short time since she first landed Stateside with a Billboard #7 debut and a showcase at the SXSW festival the press and blogosphere have turned on this rising star.
Just a bit.
I mean no one is going to far out on a limb but the overall assessments of her performances from Coachella on through the mid-west and the east coast have been less than glowing.

Of course, they've got it all wrong.

They think they are reviewing another flavour of Lily Allen or Norah Jones or Sharon Jones, even. Who? Exactly. And it's not to besmirch those talented ladies but there is no understanding Amy by comparing her to anyone.

She is a unique talent who combines retro hairdo's with new age full body tats, perched and painted on a nymph-like frame and stacked on heels. She has a penchant for dropping consonants and adopting a 'Dean Martin-like' stage demeanour, creating a soused, slurring and sassy chanteuse under blue and red lights. Onstage she can move from dreamy and disconnected when lost in a song to witty and caustic when trading barbs with the audience.

The mistake you make is in thinking it's not all absolutely plotted out in advance, that it's an accident, or an accident waiting to happen. While she's something to look at it's what you don't see that makes her a special talent.

Beyond all the stuff in the tabloids and the machinations of the star-making machinery, she is a singer-songwriter and her greatest strength is in her words.

Though she plays no instrument in her live set she writes and arranges her own material. Pretour rehearsals found her picking up her guitar to show the band the way she wanted it played. It's reported she takes no back seat musically and this live set is a testament to the success that doggedness has achieved.

She combines elements of jazz, blues and pop into her oeuvre, but it ain't the ingredients, it's how you mix 'em that counts.

The best ingredient to get the night off on the right track is found in "Addicted", her homage to herb. A light little song that sounds more like a cat-fight over a bag of green than anything else. Meant more to warm up the vocal chords than the cockles of your heart.
Lyric treat #1: "it's got me addicted/ done more than any dick did." (Now if Dylan threw out a line like that the geek-boards would be filled with essays on rhyme, they still haven't gotten over that 'capitol/skull' thing.)

Just Friends shows the wide gap between the male and female species. While mired in an affair she knows has to end she's already looking forward to when the participants can be 'just friends'. Even when doing the bad deed, knowing it's bad, knowing it has to be done, she can see a future friendship. Ain't a guy alive who could have written that piece. Well, maybe Prince.
Lyric treat #2: "the guilt will kill you...if she don't first" You've been warned.

She takes a moment to mumble something towards the audience, probably noting the opening two songs were from the new album and this one was from the 'old', or first album, Frank. "Cherry" is a tongue-in-cheek song that sounds like a lesbian tryst until it turns at the end. Just a song about a girl and her new red guitar.
Lyric treat #3: "her name is Cherry and we just met...already she knows me better than you do" ouch.

The crowd is heaping love on her with their enthusiastic applause and their attentiveness. She moves quickly into the title track, Back to Black and the level of intensity picks up in the hot, packed club. She's stretching it out vocally, dropping consonants and choosing not to finish every line. This improvisation puts some listeners off, those who would have been better to stay in their car and listen to the record. In concert it works emotively as the song takes on a feeling that transcends the literal.
Lyric treat #4: "we only said good-bye / with words..." That is some sparse writing that says so much more about the problem at hand.

Wake Up Alone is a wet-dream. Another breakup song (aren't they all?) but this one finds the author resolute in the day but vulnerable in the night. Salacious scenes stuffed with sexual images shattered by the final line that makes it all melt away: I wake up alone. Amy chooses not to sing 'alone' everytime, replacing it with what can only be called a moan.
Lyric treat #5: "when he comes to me i drip for him tonight / drowning in me we bathe under blue light." No need for pictures there.

Mid way through the song we're treated to a squeal from Amy as someone hands her a drink. Exploding applause from the audience as she doesn't miss a beat, vogues for the crowd, and sips, carefully. She explains, at songs end, that she'd been handed a 'Rickstacy', a homemade invention from her neighbourhood. She comically provides the ingredients while mentioning she does not condone this kind of behaviour and warning all to drink responsibly. That would include NOT sampling a drink that is made of 3 parts vodka, 1 part banana liquer, 1 part Baileys and 1 part Southern Comfort. As Amy said: "It'll set you on your mark."

It's just as well she took a little time to chat with the audience because this point is where the show goes from very enjoyable to superb. The songs and performance converge to raise the temperature inside this cozy venue packed tight with about a thousand bodies.

She has a false start to Tears Dry On Their Own because in the ecstacy surrounding the Rickstacy she'd forgotten she had a spoken introduction to this tune. It's a song about... "ummm, when sharks attack!" she says, before she clarifies it's more about one of those relationships gone bad that you know you'll get over...eventually.
Though the subject matter is rather depressing, the music is life affirming. Her phrasing is beyond excellent for such a young artist.
This song opens with two long lines that describe exactly how this is going to end. "All I can ever be to you is a darkness that we knew /And this regret I got accustomed to" There's not much room to crawl up from there. It may be a song about a break up but the author is not in denial. The rest of this verse takes the listener on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, one short line (or two) at a time:
pining - once it was so right /when we were at our height
reminiscing - waiting for you in the hotel at night
doubt - i knewe i hadn't met my match
desperation - but every moment we could snatch
confusion - i don't know why i got so attached
resolve - it's my responsibility / you don't owe nothing to me
compliance - but to walk away i have no capacity.

The chorus is her victory, as he walks away and she knows, even in the grey-blue shade her tears will dry on their own...meanwhile, she's free to wallow and rise above in her own time.
Lyric treat # 6: "I’ll be some next man’s other woman soon" Machine gun delivery and a ton of qualifiers all packed into a sentence that makes sense.

Cue the back up singers for their all too brief moment in the spotlight. He Can Only Hold Her turns on a shared break where 'what boys want' is juxtaposed against 'what girls want', another cautionary tale. Girls are warned about the boys who just want 'that thing' and boys are told to be wary of girls who want 'the bling'. What's strange about that central image, the hypnotic hook in the song, is that it's separate from the story of a man trying to hold a woman who's heart belongs to another.
Lyric treat #7: "Now how can he have her heart /When it got stole?" Point and match.

Time for some comic relief in the guise of F*ck Me Pumps. A cute little tune about the vaccuousness of what we all envy...youthful beauty. Light social commentary with swing. Wonder if she'll sing this song when she's pushing 30?
Lyric treat #8: "without girls like you there'd be no nightlife / all the men would go home to their wi - ives." Who's zooming who?

Turn up the soul to boiling for Love Is A Losing Game. Chock full of fire imagery it takes the listener on a lazy river ride of despair. Sh*t, if you can't feel better after listening to this can't feel better.
Lyric treat #9: :"Over futile odds,/And laughed at by the Gods." Talk about a rock and a hard place.

Next Amy gives props to one of her favorite bands with a cover of the Zutons, Valerie and then closes the set with the already over-played, Rehab, which the audience eats up.

Encore consists of two more excellent songs. First she runs the word 'fuckery' through its paces (ie. what kind of fuckery: 1) is this 2) are we and 3)are you) in Me and Mr Jones. A bombastic tune that celebrates the oneness of a relationship ("no one stands between me and my man") even as the players are playing themselves out.
Lyric treat #10: "What kind of fuckery are we? /Nowadays you don't mean dick to me (dick to me)" Now there's a phrase you don't hear in harmony often.

Last song, another monster, You Know I'm No Good. Another cautionary tale as she sets out her faults at the start. This triangular trip through hell runs the full gamut of emotion from masochistic, co-dependency to self-destructive behaviour. But it's got a good beat and you can dance to it, I give it a 93!
Lyric treat # 11: "You say why did you do it with him today? /And sniff me out like I was tanqueray" Green-eyed monster meets discerning palate.

Terrific show. A real talent. We're going to be talking about her for quite a long time.

Post script: Note on the condition of the scanned ticket. I used to keep my tickets in a bedside drawer. A few weeks ago I over-watered a plant and all the tickets got soaked. Most of the shows I see are GA so this can be a problem as Ticketbastard officially is reticent to replace GA tix. Thank god for those bar codes. My Arctic Monkeys tickets melted together, face to face. They are laminated with something that just dissolves when wet. My Anjani tickets were in pretty bad shape and couldn't be wanded at the show...they had to punch in the numbers. Trouble with the Winehouse tickets is that I bought them from a message board. Some kid needed a hundred bucks for a ticket to a Yankee baseball game. I bought 4 to the Saturday night and traded two of them for 2 on Sunday night (my son and his friend attended that show, Amy's too good to keep to 50 year olds). In any case, I could get them replaced. Fortunately it created no problem. Just a warning though, take care of your tickets.

R.I.P Amy. Here are the mp3's.

01 - Addicted
02 - Just Friends
03 - Cherry
04 - Back In Black
05 - Wake Up Alone
06 - Banter (Rick-stacy)
07 - Tears Dry On Their Own
08 - He Can Only Hold Her
09 - Fuck Me Pumps
10 - Love Is A Losing Game
11 - Valerie (Zutons Cover)
12 - Rehab
13 - Banter (Don't Say My House)
14 - Me And Mr. Jones
15 - You Know I'm No Good