BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Elizabeth II might have been at the Kentucky Derby, but the real queen of England was at the Electric Factory Saturday night. Her name is Amy Winehouse, and she is nothing short of a nouveau soul sensation. Her breakthrough album, Back To Black, with its clever post-modern amalgam of ’60s soul, Motown and Spectorian girl groups, is currently blowing up in all formats.
While royalty watchers wondered aloud which hat Elizabeth would deign to wear to the Churchill Downs, the sold out crowd at the Electric Factory were just crossing their fingers that Winehouse would show — Fleet Street, in its inimitable tradition of creating media icons and then destroying them, is currently painting her as boozy and unstable — but she not only showed up, she showed plenty. Dressed in skimpy daisy dukes, a flimsy white wifebeater, tattoos and a magnificent, towering cascade of hair arranged in a style not seen since the Shangri-Las sang “Leader Of The Pack.”
Like her music, Winehouse cuts a striking but elusive profile, petite but streetwise, retro yet thoroughly modern, with her exotic features she could pass for black or white, Arab or Asian. All of whom seemed to be represented in the Factory crowd that, unbidden, joined the star in a joyful sing-along of the unprintable rhetorical question that opens “Me & Mr. Jones.” In short, it was a party. Winehouse, who spoke in a semi-intelligible Cockney mumble between songs, made light of her rep as an unrepentant juicer, joking that she got into trouble at sound check for breaking in to the upstairs bar and liberating a bottle of tequila.
Backed by an impeccable 10-piece band, including a horn section and two suave, caramel-skinned gentlemen in dapper three-button suits singing back up and shimmying Motown-style, Winehouse was in fine voice, her phrasing was spot-on and the range and control she demonstrates on record — from black leather belting to blue velvet crooning — was undiminished. My only complaint is that she rushed her phrasing through “Rehab,” her break through hit. Every other song she seemed to fully inhabit like she lived them, but “Rehab” sounded a little vacant — like an old house she moved out of a long time ago.