As the clock strikes nine at Brixton Academy everyone is aware that there’s ample time to get in a beer or two before there’s even a hint of the infamous beehive. “I reckon she’ll be on at 10.30” wagers one spectator. “Nah fucking way. She weren’t on until 11 last night and that was before Blake’s court appearance.” It’s a shame that such focus serves to overshadow Amy Winehouse’s talent – but it’s a very pleasant surprise when the house lights go down just before 10pm.
The set is simple, adorned with lamps and resembling somewhat a ’50s jazz lounge. And this is exactly what Amy is about. As the crowd cheer through mumbled favourites such as Rehab and Tears Dry On Their Own, it’s like being transported back in time. It is clear to see that as a performer, this girl has one hell of a set of lungs on her. Yes, she does stagger about stage, knocking over equipment as she takes swigs from a pint of god knows what, but that is Winehouse. She’s never going to provide a polished performance and no one expects it. It seems most are just grateful she made an appearance at all. The fact that she can carry off a set like this, miss her cue whilst getting more and more tanked up is testament to her talent.
Credit where credit’s due though, her band seem to be the saviours of this clunky set, desperately attempting to keep the whole thing together. Her backing singer proves to be a talented host. After only 10 minutes she disappears for what seems like an eternity. Fortunately Amy has only delved off for an impromptu costume change, but with her, who knows if she’ll be back? Her six-piece band are jamming like there’s no tomorrow as they continue to fill the potential awkward silence that could arise.
Her side-kick continues to make extremely prolonged introductions, probably dubious himself as to whether she’ll return. He’s not just a support to cover her erratic stage presence, but acts as somewhat of a mentor to guide her through the struggling performance. It’s endearing when he points out and serves as a human shield as she inadvertently flashes, showing exactly how much she relies on these to get through the set.
We’re also treated to an encore – she seems to be on a role tonight. After a set that almost stretches to an hour she returns for two songs, finishing with a muttered Valerie. It’s shambolic, but she scrapes through, fleeing the stage by the final note. As performances go, sadly it’s a mess and it’s due to the unbelievable voice lurking somewhere within the mumbles, as well as the cosseted support that surrounds her that she gets away with it. Just.