Winehouse: natural and satisfying
Amy Winehouse's brief but fondly embraced history as a train wreck-in-waiting preceded her visit to Boston last night. "I'm only drunk because I know she's going to be drunk," said one excited female fan before the British soul singer took the stage at Avalon. For those who have yet to encounter Winehouse on the radio or in the press, she has a hit song called "Rehab," about not going.
Winehouse opened with "Addicted" and closed with "You Know I'm No Good," but to the chagrin of fans hoping to engage in a booze-fueled communal bender, the artist's only stumbles were a late start and a bit of trouble forming certain words between songs. Otherwise Winehouse was a total success, not by virtue of sparkling showmanship or sex appeal -- she sported surprisingly little of either, despite her nude-lady tattoos -- but just by being that rare creature we call a natural.
Backed by the eight-piece New York R&B ensemble the Dap-Kings, Winehouse sang all but one of the songs from her breakthrough album, last year's "Back to Black," tossing in a cover of the Zutons' "Valerie" and two tracks from her 2003 debut, "Frank." And sing was all she did, leaving the evening's move-busting in the capable hands (and legs and torsos) of her suave, loose-limbed back-up singers, both men. A bit of stiff hip-swivel ing was the beginning and end of Winehouse's body language.
But pressed to the microphone is where Winehouse belongs, and it sounds as though she's been there forever. Her languid, gritty phrasing and vintage-sounding soul tunes have deep roots, and yet Winehouse doesn't qualify as retro. Even the 23-year-old's inky beehive, a tangled and towering nest that required frequent nudging, seemed fresh. Part of that is wishful thinking; Generation Next deserves its own Motown sound. But mostly it's because Winehouse was so effortlessly, unassumingly herself: no airs, no anxiety, no ingratiating shout-outs to her heroes. Her endearingly awkward efforts to explain song meanings were a far cry from the smooth stage stylings of her predecessors.
The plastic cup from which Winehouse sipped, and then began to drain, did work a certain magic, as the beverage seemed to go straight to her vocal pipes. Perfectly sharp, pre-guzzle takes on the gems "Just Friends" and "Tears Dry On Their Own" were replaced with phenomenally lubed renditions of "Love is a Losing Game" and "Me & Mr. Jones." Winehouse's tones grew bigger and rounder, her licks wilder.
The exception, oddly, was "Rehab," which was speeded up and phoned in. Maybe it was the clean version.
The eccentric young Brit Patrick Wolf ploughed valiantly through an opening set of challenging (and woefully under-amplified) chamber-disco that proved too disorienting for most to digest.