Monday, May 14, 2007

We went to the Highline Ballroom the other night to see the notorious Amy Winehouse. The place is a slick new nightclub with a stage and it seems to be run by Israeli secret service. Bald, thin guys with sharp suits and earpieces. Half-whispering to each other, guardedly, their eyes scanning the room. One escorted us upstairs to consider seats at a shared table on the mezzanine. It felt like a cop was tying my shoe.

We settled at a corner of the stage and I went for drinks. As I lifted them off the bar I got a sad and sickening feeling I'd never felt before – they lacked the heft I'd come to expect over thousands upon thousands of repetitions of this sacrosanct act. They were light. And by that I don't mean light in booze. I mean the glasses – a perfectly normal-shaped small rocks glass and highball glass – were made of plastic.

The very strange Patrick Wolf opened up. He seemed to be in the vanguard of some invisible '80s nostalgia trip, coming off as a Boy George sort of Adam Ant kind of Peter Pan. He wore shorts with suspenders and knee-high black socks and blue patent-leather shoes and something was up with his hair. Some of his songs sounded like Shriekback and others like the Fairport Convention. I found his performance dully unappealing yet also oddly terrifying. And then the stage was cleared.

A gray-haired old roadie soundchecked all the instruments, each a beautiful vintage axe with its accompanying priceless amp. He played the bassline from Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" over and over, lazily playing an utterly false note at the end of the phrase each and every time. I cringed and lifted my featherweight drink to my lips.

He set Amy up with orange juice mixed with Jack Daniel's right at the base of her mic stand.

Finally she came out and took stuttery steps across the stage, looking down, but not demurely, and grabbed the microphone with an insolent and condescending air as her crack band, all sharp in suits but no ties (to suggest a touch of dissolution) fell into an immaculate groove, her backup singing men dancing in big unison movements beside her, and she swiveled her hips ever so slightly, exaggeratedly little in fact, and took tiny steps in place before the microphone, to the beat – her backup singers dancing widely, warmly – then swung her knees in turn, feet together, within a tight and measured space, mincingly. Her. And she held the mic out in her hand like she was handing you the phone. Then when she put it to her mouth to sing a remarkable thing came out, belying her tiny frame. A golden moan, molasses-rich and plaintive; disenchanted and weary too. A voice that's beautiful in spite of her, and all the more beautiful for that fact.

She seemed to observe some degree of amused contempt for her audience and the proceedings generally.

She's a perfect star.