“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.