It was the worst of gigs, just the worst of gigs. The level of expectation produced by having a ticket for the first gig in a nationwide tour of all the significant temples of entertainment that populate the land by the most talented female singer this country has produced in two decades would normally build into high excitement as the date approached.
However, five days before the date, the tabloids lurched back into overdrive, moving seamlessly from crime watch to suicide watch as the Blake Fielder-Civil (Mr. Amy Winehouse) show ended in incarceration and an overwhelming sense of dread prevailed. It’s one thing to go to a gig expecting a car crash and getting one; it’s another to go with that expectation and witness a motorway pile-up.
After the last support act finished we were granted a 90 minute wait while an interminable backing tape pumped out monotonously bland R&B for what seemed an eternity, whilst all we had for entertainment was the venue security, a squad of Grant Mitchell look-alikes bristling with radio mikes, swooping on seemingly random members of the crowd like some high-tech press gang, dragging them off into the cavernous side-stage darkness with alarming regularity. Miss Winehouse finally teetered on stage at around 10:00 pm; the industrial-size beverage that was downed in one before the microphone was approached seemed a sad harbinger of what was to follow. The outlandish beehive of yore now perched like an abandoned rookery, defying gravity against all odds to stand, totem-like, for the full-scale artistic collapse we were about to witness.
It would be churlish to carry on describing in forensic detail the resulting performance for that would be an unnecessary and self-indulgent exercise in the rhetoric of callous cruelty, except to say whatever the musical shortcomings of Miss Winehouse, they were not shared by her band, who were as polished as black Japan and tight as a trap; they played peerlessly, never wrong-footed by the unpredictability of their singer.
Perhaps the predictability of the unpredictability is the issue, because she behaved exactly as most observers were expecting; the audience could see it coming, the media could see it coming, so why would those who no doubt put their invoices in with Germanic efficiency for their slice of the mighty financial cake which Miss Winehouse seems to consistently bake (5 million album sales, new DVD blah blah blah) let her perform in front of thousands while in such a fragile mental state? What kind of career move do they think it is to let her perform a raw emotional autopsy in front of thousands, calling your audience “mug c***s” for buying a ticket because they had the temerity to voice their opinion with boos after having had a cigarette butt flicked at them? Where is the duty of care for her that somebody must have? How much longer will she be allowed to publicly implode, seemingly abandoned in a compassionless desert, left for tabloid carrion, her musical ability left to wither along with her mental stability?
It would seem for the moment that the financial juggernaut rolls on regardless of who gets hurt when it careens out of control. I just hope very soon somebody puts Miss Winehouse’s welfare first, before we are speaking her name along with Billy Holiday and Janis Joplin as we recall the litany of supremely talented but tragically dead female blues singers we have observed self-destruct. To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson from Generation of Swine: “The entertainment business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the music industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”