The big question Thursday at SXSW was whether Amy Winehouse was going to show up.
Known for hard living, the English singer had cancelled her past few gigs in the UK, and the Austin Chronicle alt-weekly reported Thursday morning that Winehouse had, "for reasons known only to her," nixed all other promotional appearances at the festival, including a spot at a daytime party Friday.
Although she was running late enough Thursday to prompt a schedule switch at the venue where she was scheduled to appear, Winehouse finally took the stage shortly after 1 a.m., dressed in black with her thick hair piled into a bouffant.
It was worth the wait. Although she seemed younger than her 23 years between songs, she was excellent while she sang. Her tunes show the influence of old-school girl groups like the Shangri-Las, and Winehouse sings in a rich, full voice imbued with a generous measure of grit. Her borrowed nine-piece band, the Dap-Kings, was transcendent, throwing down vintage Stax-style soul grooves like it was nothing. Baritone sax growled a counterpoint to the vivid, punchy bass as Winehouse let her voice ring. She performed tunes from her sophomore album, "Back to Black" (which came out March 13 in the U.S.), ending with the throbbing, defiant soul-funk of "Rehab," about her refusal to enroll in same.