As if anyone needed an introduction. The Riot Room on a Monday night seemed like an oddly low-key venue for an artist accustomed to huge stages (like the VooDoo Lounge with Beyonce's sister, in 2009). But it quickly became apparent that this devoted mob would have turned out for Estelle if she'd played the men's room at Harling's. Estelle even had the nerve to demand some two-stepping from the audience. Two-step? The crowd was so smushed, nobody could take two steps in any direction.Ava Bella, a local who performs under the tutelage of rapper James Christos' Guerilla Movement Management, scored a coveted opening slot before the main event. Christos told me that she'd be taking the stage at 8:45 p.m. I waltzed in at 9 p.m., confident that nothing had started yet. Wrong! Estelle's touring entourage runs a tight ship, and as we learned later, it pays off. (I missed three of Ava's four songs: "Butterfly," "Millionaire" and "King." I caught the end of "Lady Gun." Outside, I bummed a cigarette from a handsome, if shabbily dressed, man who said he came to see Ava perform after he'd missed her NYE show at Czar. I asked him how he knew her. "She works at Starbucks," he said. "And I'm homeless.") Luke James, a John-Legend-esque singer who received a standing ovation (in front of the First Lady!) when he performed at the BET Honors, according to Christos, who introduced him. He deserved a standing O for his singing and his six-pack, which he revealed when he unbuttoned a bit to perform a duet with Estelle near the end of her set.
Estelle made eye contact with individuals. ("I see you!" she said to a ginormous dude who parked himself, bodyguard-like, front and center. "He's all I can see!," I was tempted to holler back.) She gave advice. (She's a proponent of naps: "Most times you get pissed off, you're just tired.") And she made one male fan's night by dragging his drunk ass onstage for a dance, only to find that he was a little handsy. "Don't touch it," she had to warn more than once. From there on out, the drunk guy screamed, "THAT'S MY WIFE," during breaks in the music.
And Estelle's encore — "American Boy," of course — had the whole crowd ready to yell, "THAT'S MY WIFE."