If the Billboard Lounge at the Barclays Center continues hosting concerts by up-and-comers during the NBA and NHL seasons, Elle Winston may get to keep on wowing her coworkers. That’s if the singer, who works at the venue by day in the programming department at Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, doesn’t blow up first.
Winston was a highlight of last year’s inaugural post-game Billboard Lounge concert series, and Sunday night (November 20), the jazz-leaning R&B songstress delivered another short-yet-potent performance emblematic of her dual role at the Brooklyn arena. While she spent much of her time in the audience, vibing along with fans as her four-piece funk-soul band did its thing, Winston instantly transcended everywoman status whenever she stepped to the mic and shared her willowy, startlingly pretty, deceptively powerful voice.
She worked both sides of her persona from the outset. As the band vamped on some slow-burn R&B, Winston strode in from the back of the room, singing as she moved toward the stage in a long floral coat. It turned out she was covering “Illusion of Bliss,” from the latest Alicia Keys album Here, and even with her vocals mixed too low for the noisy room, Winston created a sultry after-hours vibe.
Winston followed the Keys cover with three originals, all slated to appear on The Buy Back, the debut album she’ll release on March 3 next year. The highlight, as it was at Winston’s show last March, was “Heavy Now,” a funky neo-soul bumper that recently dropped as a single. On her website, Winston says the song is about “being defeated,” “feeling tired and exasperated,” and weighing “the debt we pay to be here and how we must continue to stand up, even when we’re knocked down.” She says the song has taken on new meaning following the presidential election, and her performance on Sunday carried the same spirit—beauty through resilience—that she brought to her reading of “The Star-Spangled Banner” earlier in the afternoon, before the Nets played the Trailblazers.
After one more cover, Alabama Shakes’ “Hold On,” Winston paid tribute to beloved funk-soul ambassador Sharon Jones, who passed away on November 18 after a battle with cancer. Winston opted to play “Your Thing Is a Drag,” a dirty, sassy James Brown homage that sent her into the crowd, tambourine in hand. Winston follows the beat where it leads her, and that policy serves her well.