Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Amy Winehouse/The Pipettes @ Bowery Ballroom

After seeing The Pipettes a couple of nights ago, I headed down to Bowery Ballroom to see them and Amy Winehouse on a “Live From London” double bill. It was a sold out gig, a hard ticket to come by, and the people who made it in were clearly happy to be there, at least for Amy Winehouse. She deservedly got an ecstatic reception, this was a fantastic show.

But, before the two of them we had Jamie Woon. Yes, he was from London so I suppose he qualifies, but his music did not fit at all with the excess and attitude of the acts he was supporting. Woon seemed like this was his first gig ever, very nervous and constantly making self deprecating jokes. He was up there with just a guitar and a looping device, so it’s understandable that he’d be nervous. I didn’t think he was bad, more that his very minimal rock belonged more as the opener for a Jack Johnson show, or perhaps the entertainment at a coffee house, than as the opener for these two. The crowd was on the border of encouragement and mockery, but they generally gave him approval. I was pretty much waiting for him to end, but I did enjoy the vocal loops he did.

I had a great spot, one person back, right at center stage. There were no heads in front of me, just the band, looming above, imposing. It was a great spot, though I did feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the audience. During Amy Winehouse, I looked back and saw a bunch of people dancing, but the people around me were pretty much just taking pictures, not making with the movement. I’m always curious about why people invest so much effort taking pictures at a show, the visuals don’t change that much, so if you really need a record, just grab it quickly and then put the camera away. I find it distracting, the whole point of the show is to get lost in the music and if you can’t do that if you’re messing around with a camera. Just exist in the moment, don’t worry about having a permanent record.

The Pipettes:
Setlist: Sex//Your Kisses are Wasted on Me//Why Did You Stay?//Because It’s not Love//Hurts to See You Dance So Well//Tell Me What You Want//Guess Who Ran Off With the Milkman//One Night Stand//Judy//Dirty Mind//Pull Shapes//We Are the Pipettes

Anyway, The Pipettes roared out with the same high level of energy they had at Luna Lounge on Sunday. The major variations were a slight change in the setlist and a different outfit for Gwenno. The band is one of the most charismatic, just plain fun live acts I’ve seen. They look like they’re enjoying what they’re doing so much, the only other act that has that same joy in every moment of playing is The Polyphonic Spree. It must be something about wearing uniforms, takes you out of the everyday and makes it possible to just get lost in the music.

I think it was a mistake to open with one of their slower songs, “Sex,” rather than the high energy “Your Kisses are Wasted on Me.” Becki apologized again for switching to a slower song, but their slower songs are so layered and engulfing the set doesn’t lose the energy. If they pulled a Jamie Woon and went just one person on guitar, that would kill the momentum. But playing a song like “Tell Me What” midset doesn’t lose me at all, but I felt like the show hadn’t really started during “Sex” and it was only with “Your Kisses are Wasted on Me” that the band came alive. Unlike Luna, this show drew almost exclusively from We Are the Pipettes. Considering they had less time, that’s for the best and I enjoyed every song they played.

I was right in front of Rose and was struck by how beautiful she was. I loved the way her dancing had a fervent energy, committing to the motions with almost robotic intensity. Becki had a looser, “I’m making this up” feel to her movements and Gwenno emphasized her sexiness with all her motion. They’re a good bunch and fun to watch them play off each other during the set. If anything, the dancing this time was even more coordinated and intense. I suppose they’ve got the moves for the album songs down, but are still working on stuff for the new songs.

The ending run from “Judy” to “We are the Pipettes” was the high point of the show, one great song after the other. The crowd wasn’t as into their set as people were the other night, fitting since they’re the opening act. I prefer The Pipettes’ album to Amy Winehouse’s, but I enjoyed Amy Winehouse’s set more because of both the crowd reaction and the confidence she had as a headliner. The Pipettes did a great job, the musicianship was just as strong as at Luna Lounge, but they weren’t able to make the crowd their own the way they did two nights ago.

But, I still loved seeing them and am looking forward to seeing them again if they tour for the US release of their album. They’re a uniquely entertaining live act, and the more people get into the album, the more fun the show will be. Plus, I loved the fact that I was just as engaged with the opening act as with the headliner, it made for a much more satisfying show experience.

Amy Winehouse
Setlist: Addicted//Just Friends//Cherry//Back to Black//Wake Up Alone//Tears Dry on Their Own//He Can Only Hold Her//Fuck Me Pumps//You Know I’m No Good//Me and Mr. Jones//Rehab
Encore: Love is a Losing Game//Valerie

I reviewed Amy Winehouse’s new album, Back to Black, last week, and after listening to it, I was eager to see her live. The past week, there’s been a lot of stories about Amy in the British tabloids, that she needs to go to rehab, that she’s been canceling shows, etc. But, she didn’t cancel this one, and I’m glad of that. She’s got an image as a hard partying bad girl and she played that up throughout her set.

After The Pipettes finished, it took a while to set up for Amy, and when her crew came out, I could see why. She had ten backing musicians: three guitars, one drums, one keyboard, one trumpet, two sax and two male backup singers. But, all this never took the attention away from Amy herself, who owned the stage for the hour she played. She came out dressed in a poka dot dress, hair piled up on top her head, heavy black, 60s style eye makeup cutting across her face. She looked like a Russ Meyer character, Vixen in particular. I don’t know how tall she is, but she seemed towering, standing on the stage.

Being so close to the stage, I could see the setlist in advance, something I don’t usually like. It’s better to be surprised when a great song drops, but I was happy to see that nearly the whole set was drawn for Back to Black. She opened with “Addicted,” the last track of the album, and that was a bit jarring. I like that she saved her big single, “Rehab” for the closure, but I associated “Addicted” with the fade out, and it didn’t get the energy up for me.

Things picked up shortly though, the early highlight was “Back to Black,” the highlight of the album, an apocalyptic piece of 60s girl group soul. Throughout her set, Amy moved in a very self conscious way, like there was no audience, it was just her hearing the music in her head. Her dancing reminded me of Audrey in the second episode of Twin Peaks, just swaying to this music that’s wafting out of the ether, lost in the moment. Her dancing wasn’t the coordinated routines of The Pipettes, it was whatever she felt at that time.

“Tears Dry on Their Own” was another highlight, a bit more up tempo, making good use of the horn section. “He Can Only Hold Her” worked well, segueing into an excerpt from Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” which gave the background singers their moment in the spotlight. They did some vocals, but mainly seemed to be there to do really snappy synchronized dancing.

I wasn’t a huge fan of “I’m No Good” on the album, but it worked really well live, one of the highlights of the night. “Me and Mr. Jones” worked really well too, and saw some of Amy’s most impassioned dancing. The set closed out with “Rehab,” one of her best songs, that moment when the horns come in still gives me chills every time.

She left to huge applause, which seemed to surprise even her. The crowd loved her and made that very vocal. Coming out for the encore, she seemed a bit overwhelmed. Throughout she joked with the crowd about her love of alcohol, bringing back some vintage drinking jokes, like “I have a drinking problem, I can’t seem to get it in my mouth.” I’m not sure how much of that is an act, playing up to her image, but it got pops from the crowd, so it worked. Sometimes, she would kneel down to drink and singing from that position, I was right on level with her, her mind seemingly receding into the music.

Things wrapped up with the low key, but still strong “Love is a Losing Game,” and the raucous “Valerie.” The crowd wanted more, and I would have liked a bit extra, but I’d seen the setlist and knew this was it. She put on a fantastic show, with great vocals and musicianship. The only issue I had was that they stuck a bit too faithfully to the recorded version of the songs, not letting the instrumentalists do their own thing for a bit. But, Amy is the center of things, and even if we did get guitar or horn solos, the attention would still be on her.

It’s always nice to go to a show where you like more than just the headliner. This was a lot of fun, a journey back into 60s sounds, but with contemporary attitude. These two acts are both big in Britain, and I hope they find major success here. If you get the chance to see either, don’t pass them up.

2 comments: said...

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for this story/review. I only discovered Amy's music after she was gone. After looking at so many of the videos from her live shows, I can see her whole body language and demeanor change as a few years went by. Makes you wonder if she just got tired of the shows and could not put her heart into them anymore. This show sounded like one of her best ones.