Photo by Associated Press/NYT
Here it comes again: On a Saturday night in the Twin Cities, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame paid tribute to the late Amy Winehouse at an outdoor concert and it started to rain.
U2 famously did it two Saturdays ago during a deluge, on the day Winehouse died. Wanda Jackson did it Saturday at the Minnesota Zoo because she’d recorded one of Winehouse’s song, "You Know That I’m No Good," on her recent comeback album, "The Party Ain’t Over."
Jackson, the queen of rockabilly, was hesitant to cut the Winehouse tune. "It’s too sexually explict and not age appropriate," Jackson explained Saturday that she’d told producer Jack White about the second verse of the song. He’d already anticipated her reservations and rewritten the lyrics.
For 70 minutes amid a few sprinkles Saturday, the 73-year-old Wanda weaved her magic, the right mix of sassy and sweet, clever and corny, rock and country. Her voice was truer on ballads than on rockers but her attitude was always right. She was like your favorite salty old aunt who tells stories that thrill you and make you giggle. She told a backstory for nearly every song (many of the same stories she told me in an interview to preview the concert) and cracked spontaneous jokes about eating mosquitos because she hadn’t had any dinner yet.
The Oklahoman clearly paid her dues on the country circuit but she still has that growl in her voice that made that good girl seem bad in her rockabilly songs back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. (She’s the kind of gal who will tease guys by licking her finger suggestively at the end of "Funnel of Love.")
Buoyed by the Twin Cities’ well-drilled, swingin’ Hillbilly Voodoo Dolls (she wanted to call them the Baloney Bandits), Jackson saluted her old boyfriend Elvis Presley (with a revved up "Heartbreak Hotel" and the slow, sexy blues "Like a Baby"), gave a shout out to Jesus ("I Saw the Light"), put the ache in her hit country ballad "Right or Wrong" and got all spunky on "Mean Mean Man," her first rock song from 1956.
Wearing a trademark fringed outfit, Wanda reminisced about playing at the old Flame Cafe on Nicollet back in the 1950s and ‘60s and doing many gigs with Twin Cities country stalwart Sherwin Linton, who was in the audience. She will be back in town Aug. 24, backed by the excellent Hillbilly Voodoo Dolls, opening for Adele at Xcel Energy Center.
Opening the concert was a post-rehab Americana ace Justin Townes Earle, who looked like Alfalfa of "Little Rascals" with a too-short sport jacket, too-combed hair and too-big glasses. He’s as hyper as ever but, backed by a fiddler, upright bassist and his own acoustic guitar, he didn’t seem as compelling as in some of his previous local performances. His songs and humor were sharp (loved the joke about Steve Earle: "He gave me the daddy issues; he’s got to deal with them on the records") but his performance was not consistently focused.
Here is Wanda Jackson’s set list:
Riot in Cell Block #9/ Rock Your Baby/ I Gotta Know/ Funnel of Love/ Betcha My Heart/ Heartbreak Hotel/ Shakin’ All Over/ You Know That I’m No Good/ Rip It Up/ Like a Baby/ Nervous Breakdown/ Fujiyama Mama/ Right or Wrong/ Mean Mean Man/ I Saw the Light/ Let’s Have a Party ENCORE Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On