Celisse Henderson Stuns a Lincoln Center Crowd With Her Guitar and Vocal Chops

by delarue

Celisse Henderson is definitely an artist we feel is representing New York, and representing Lincoln Center,”  impresario Jordana Leigh told a packed house last night.

“I just want to let everybody know I’m really excited at being at such a fancy establishment without getting kicked out,” Henderson responded a little later. At her debut headlining show at Manhattan’s cultural mecca, the dynamic, charismatic multi-instrumentalist flexed some fearsome guitar chops, and her powerful voice, and kept the crowd in stitches with her between-song banter (she’s also an actress – go figure). Force of nature would be an understatement.

Backed by a tight, supple rhythm section – Mark McLean on drums and Paul Frazier on bass – she opened the night on Strat with a new number, America, flinging bits and piece of Hendrixian chordlets until she hit her solo midway through, and in a second peaked out the intensity with a searing blast of blues way up the fretboard. She switched to a vintage hollowbody Gibson for the next number, Stuck On You Blues rising from sunbaked red dirt Texas soul to a hard-hitting chorus and back: this time it was her vocals that pinned every needle on the soundboard.

She brought the lights down over a slinky, distantly boomy groove for the aptly titled Lost and then picked up the pace with a powerhouse soul-funk anthem, Mystery to Me. When she followed a snarling, flying leap out of a whirlwind of notes to low-register grit and then a trick ending, the effect was nothing short of breathtaking. Switching to piano, she got the crowd howling with a little ditty that called on the talents of Dorian the soundguy before a subdued take of Enough, an enigmatic, hypnotic soul ballad..

She followed the bouncy clave piano soul of Wanna Be Your Lover with Crazy, an impassioned guitar number with a wry, surreal, spiky low-register solo and then took the crowd to Memphis circa 1967 with the catchy, bouncy Undercover. Much as it takes nerve to do a song solo with just bass – a snazzy-looking Fender Jazz copy – Henderson made it look easy, making a snarky singalong out of the wry empowerment anthem I Love Being Me.

She closed with a slowly crescendoing, angst-fueled but ultimately hopeful piano ballad for troubled times, We’re the Ones We’re Waiting For and encored with Only Girl in the World, a smoldering update on Synchronicity-era Police.

The next concert at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway north of 62nd Street is Red Baraat leader and mega-percussionist Sunny Jain’s Indian jamband on Dec 14 at 7:30 PM. Get there early or risk getting shut out because the crew there never let the space get uncomfortably crowded.