LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Midway through her set Monday at the Roxy, Amy Winehouse belted out the confessional bad-girl anthem “You Know I’m No Good,” but the British soul scorcher was only half-right. Maybe she is no good, but at that moment — and during much of her 50-minute set — Winehouse was fantastic.
Fresh from the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, where she was one of the leading attractions, the 23-year-old chanteuse already has garnered much success and acclaim in her homeland, including topping the album chart with her second U.K. release “Back to Black” (released last week in the U.S. on Universal Republic) and a Brit Award for best British female solo artist. On a night when two other SXSW buzz acts from Blighty — the Fratellis and Bloc Party — also were in town, Winehouse was the buzziest and had no problem living up to the hype.
Backed by a nattily attired nine-piece ensemble that included an instrumental quartet, a trio of horn players and two male backup singers, Winehouse’s set played out like a full-scale soul revue. She was the striking figure in the center of it all, sporting a low-cut turquoise party dress over her razor-thin, tattooed frame, with a beehive hairdo and Egyptian-styled eye makeup. Yet it was Winehouse’s voice rather than her looks that delivered the knockout punch.
She tipped her influences before even taking the stage by having the Chiffons’ classic “He’s So Fine” play over the house PA system as she made her entrance. Indeed, Winehouse is reviving the tradition of the great girl groups of the ‘60s, as was evident in her performance of the title track of “Back to Black,” which is steeped in the kind of heartbreak and drama that hasn’t been heard since the Shangri-Las. Yet she also channeled such R&B and jazz greats as Etta James and Billie Holiday.
Still, Winehouse isn’t a mere nostalgia act. She tacked on Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” on to the end of her own “He Can Only Hold Her” and impressively traded verses with her backup singers. “You Know I’m No Good” was propelled by infectious hip-hop-styled beats and spiked by intoxicating horns. She introduced the song by sharing her thoughts about a recent breakup with her boyfriend. In “Me & Mr. Jones,” Winehouse made reference to a “Slick Rick gig,” and her show-closing number may have been propelled by a ‘60s-styled groove and handclaps, but it’s titled after and addresses the very current subject of “Rehab.”
In all, even the relatively brief dose of Winehouse at the Roxy was intoxicating enough to leave those in attendance jonesin’ for more.