In a performance that reinforced the polish and texture of her debut album “Rockferry,” the British singer Duffy slid comfortably into a mold that is serving her well in 2008. Slightly kittenish throughout, brimming with confidence in places and sharply attuned to the melancholy nature of her soul-pop material, Duffy has the opening salvo of her career firmly locked in with a sexy wink and a nod to the adult pop of the ’60s and early ’70s soul. Enjoyable as that it, there’s a big question looming: What’s next?
Her performance at Webster Hall was a short one — a 45-minute main set plus two encores — and it did little to enhance any of the qualities of her album, which is nearing a million sold in the U.S. since its release in March. The album’s biggest number, “Distant Dreamer,” closed the show as it closes the album on a lush, penetrating note of hope that insinuates that she’s an artist with considerable ambition.
Opener “Syrup and Honey” and the four songs that followed, including “Rain on Your Parade,” which veers a bit too deep into Amy Winehouse territory, were delivered with finely tuned sultriness and conviction. She has come a long way from her first Stateside shows when her stage movement was limited to slow, go-go dancer moves from the ’60s that emphasized swaying hips and arms reaching skyward.
It comes as a bit of shock, though, when she slips, as she did on “Breaking My Own Heart,” into what appears to be improvised hand waving and nonmetered steps. Everything about her is calculated, from the accents in the music — a bit of Bacharach here, Motown there — to the dance steps and vocal timbre that even the slightest deviation is disconcerting.
In another era, Duffy might not have been taken so seriously. The era she recalls — mostly Philadelphia soul in the pre-disco ’70s, processed through a Phil Spector filter — was one dominated by producers rather than the stars, who were often extensions of a vision. Duffy, and this is an assumption, has taken the model and made it artist-driven, choosing to disrupt tradition by leaving her piercing voice naked and open without the support of a bank of backing vocalists.