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(Credit: Universal/Film Four)

Music

What did Amy Winehouse play at her final concert?

The last few years in the life of Amy Winehouse were a never-ending cycle of addiction, tabloid fodder, drunken performances, and failed attempts to follow up on her 2006 sophomore album Back to Black. Each time it seemed like she had made progress towards getting clean or returning to the studio, a new photo featuring an inebriated and/or confused Winehouse would surface, dashing the hopes of fans and leaving her personal life in a state of chaos.

Not long after the release of Back to Black, Winehouse replaced her manager Nick Shymansky with promoter Raye Cosbert. Whereas Shymansky was a friend who had helped Winehouse through her early days of anonymous gigs in pubs and jazz bars, Cosbert came on board after Winehouse was a known entity and took a hands-off approach when it came to the singer’s off-stage behaviour. Cosbert viewed his job as getting Winehouse on stage every night, and from there, whatever happened happened.

Unfortunately, what happened was that Winehouse would frequently show up too intoxicated to play properly. Shows during the last year of her life would frequently be cut short or abandoned entirely when Winehouse had difficulty remembering lyrics and, on occasion, even the names of her band members. Friends had begged Winehouse to cancel a 12-leg European tour in the summer of 2011, but Cosbert and her father Mitch had followed through on the bookings when Winehouse stated that she wanted to play them.

The first night of that tour in Belgrade, Serbia, wound up being Winehouse’s final show. The night was infamous, with contemporary reports from the likes of The New Zealand Herald describing Winehouse as being “unable to recall the lyrics of her songs, or to sing those she could remember with any clarity, instead mumbling her way through hits like Valerie and Just Friends. She was even unable to speak coherently.”

That report also states that Winehouse stayed on stage for the entirety of her 45-minute set but stumbled her way through band introductions and had difficulty remembering what city she was in, referencing both Athens, Greece and New York at different points during the night. 

Footage of Winehouse’s final performance can easily be found, but it’s a tough act to watch. Winehouse slurs and stumbles her way through the opening number ‘Just Friends’ and even begins monologuing incoherently. She can barely remember the words to ‘Addicted’ and leans heavily on backing singer Zalon Thompson throughout ‘Tears Dry on Their Own’.

But it’s during ‘Some Unholy War’ that Winehouse has her most heartbreaking moment. After forgetting the words and having Zalon whisper them in her ear, Winehouse appears to get emotional and break down. The crowd boos her and a vacant stare comes across Winehouse’s face. She wraps herself in her arms and holds back tears. What she’s thinking in this moment is known only to her, but she recovers enough to join back into ‘Some Unholy War’ already in progress.

Zolan then takes the lead on a version of Hal Kemp’s ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ as Winehouse sits and watches on the drum riser. She returns to the microphone for ‘Back to Black’, but the band has to fluxuate tempos to keep up with Winehouse’s off-kilter sense of rhythm. After speak-singing her way through ‘Love Is a Losing Game’, the familiar beat of ‘You Know I’m No Good’ comes in. Winehouse misses her initial entrance and has difficulty staying at the microphone stand, interjecting her vocals in between their usual spots in the melody. Improvising wasn’t uncommon for Winehouse, but this was more akin to simply stating the lines instead of creating a new melody.

The singer seems to muster enough energy and focus to kick off ‘Valerie’, but once again can’t seem to stay the course. Zolan has to rescue the song by singing the second verse while dancing with Winehouse, but she manages to pull herself together to finish out the song. Winehouse then relegates herself to backing vocals on Andy and Joey’s ‘You’re Wondering Now’ before she and the band depart the stage.

After the performance, Winehouse’s next two shows were cancelled, swiftly followed by the remaining nine concerts. A month later, Amy Winehouse would make her final stage appearance at her goddaughter Dionne Bromfield’s concert at the Roundhouse in Camden, singing a version of the classic R&B song ‘Mama Said’. Just three days later, Winehouse would be found dead in her Camden flat.

Watch Winehouse’s difficult final performance down below.

Amy Winehouse setlist, Belgrade, Serbia, June 18th, 2011:

  1. ‘Just Friends’
  2. ‘Addicted’
  3. ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’
  4. ‘I’m On the Outside’ (Little Anthony and the Imperials cover) [Zolan on lead vocals]
  5. ‘Some Unholy War’
  6. ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ (Hal Kemp cover) [Zolan on lead vocals]
  7. ‘Back to Black’
  8. ‘Love Is a Losing Game’
  9. ‘You Know I’m No Good’
  10. ‘Valerie’ (The Zutons cover) [Zolan on co-lead vocals]
  11. ‘You’re Wondering Now’ (Andy and Joey cover) [Zolan on lead vocals]