Photos: Amy Winehouse at Avalon

Amy Winehouse
at Avalon
May 7, 2007
Photos: Kelly Davidson

Screamin' Jay Hawkins always maintained that "I Put a Spell on You" was the product of a plastered night in the studio, but if so he was one motherfucking miracle of a drunk. He was a frustrated opera singer, and even on "Spell" he had the elocution of a baptist -- that is, when he wasn't howling like a jive voodoo priest. We've always wondered if he made up the drunk story to protect the part of his dignity that prized technique. Besides, even Screamin' Jay probably knew that the star of "I Put a Spell on You" was that infernal, inebriated baritone sax lick -- the song's actual drunken protagonist, belching and stuttering like a fat man stumbling cockeyed down the street.

Coming out of Avalon last night, Amy Winehouse's supporters weren't quite sure: was she really, really drunk or does she just always sing like that? Whatever the answer, what a weird gig. Outside, you've got competing radio-station SUVs: WFNX and Mix 98, which gives you a sense of what an odd bank-shot Winehouse's career requires. Anyone so inclined is welcome to argue the hype, since her live vocals bore so little resemblance to what she put on wax -- between her slurring and her cockney, that freakishly soulful rasp of hers barely got a note in edgewise. No matter what's in her cup, she's no Screamin' Jay. But for fuck's sake, the concept. We'd long ago given up on the idea that we'd ever see real-deal soul in the top 40, let alone a fully-staffed showband in the club. Credit Cee-Lo for bringing the scent of green back to R&B and for reminding people that 13 pieces will fit on a stage. And then join us in bowing before Mark Ronson for making the exact perfect connection between singer, backing band, and material. The sound of Back to Black -- those firecracker snares; that flatulent, busted-carburetor sax -- is just unfuckwithable, and it could only have been put together by someone who'd grasped the tenuous link between the DJ-friendly rare-groove marketplace and Daptone's modern soul revival. (If you had returned from the future and told us back then that Daptone would be on the goddamn radio, we'd have bet the mortgage you were lying.) There are probably not three people on earth who could've pulled it off as a pop record. As we yawned our way through Amy's set -- imagine, like, if they had a Diamanda Galas night on American Idol -- we wondered how long it will be before her label pulls her tour support and the band goes back to playing for connoisseurs. Even if Winehouse blows it, we hope Ronson has made his point about the stability and marketability of the music: Christina Aguilera's handlers would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to have her do this kind of material on her next record.

Also, someone let us know if we just imagined this: was that Amanda Palmer screaming "Show us your nuts!" at Patrick Wolf?

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