Memo Music Hall - St Kilda, Melbourne
Sunday Feb 4 2018
★ ★ ★ ★
Melbourne is a moveable feast in summer, and the 2018 St Kilda Festival made the offering all the richer with its February 4 tribute concerts to the late Amy Winehouse.
In conjunction with the Jewish Museum of Australia’s exquisite ‘Amy Winehouse Exhibition’ (running until March 25), Memo Music Hall attendees were treated to a matinee offering of some of Australia’s most promising and established musical talents. Led by Darcy McNulty of Jazz Party, the ensemble brought to life the mixtape and catalogue of this once-in-a-generation artist.
Sydney-based Elana Stone was magnetic and the most natural and entertaining performer of the afternoon, infusing the poetry of ‘Valerie’ with her smooth and soulful voice. Rita Satch was similarly compelling. As McNulty observed, Satch’s voice has developed over the past five years so that she now resonates elements of Amy's smouldering voice, appearance and movements behind the microphone. She was irresistibly groovy performing ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’, ‘Mr Magic’ and ‘Stronger than Me’. The latter rendition demonstrated why Satch was the most adept at inhabiting the emotion and rhythm of Amy’s music. She communicated the soulful frustration of Amy’s life in a way that the other performers didn't, from infidelity and sexual disappointment to disintegrating relationships: “I just want to grip your body over mine / Please tell me why you think that’s a crime / I’ve forgotten all of young love’s joy”.
21-year-old wunderkind Alma Zygier was a revelation and probably the most unique and memorable vocalist of the show. Her otherworldly voice dripped with the sultriness and texture of some pre-War jazz singers (think Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald), which was enchanting when set against a more lilting musical arrangement. Her rendition of classic ‘Body and Soul’ was sublime and spellbinding, and Zygier seemed far more comfortable in this space than she did in her moving rendition of ‘Back to Black’. While Zygier is undeniably a phenomenon and future star who ably captured the sadness and vulnerability underneath Winehouse’s exterior, one yearned for the confident, ribald and defiant maturity of Amy’s (or Satch’s) voice when performing Amy’s catalogue. (But perhaps I am just unsophisticated and possess an unrefined musical palate).
Husky Gawenda (of Husky fame) delivered a mesmerising unplugged version of “You Know I’m No Good”. Slowed down and stripped of the complexity and busyness of instrumentation, Gawenda’s mellow voice afforded the sparse lyrics space for contemplation and a hardboiled poignancy made more tragic by Amy’s death: “I cheated myself / like I knew I would / I told you I was troubled / you know that I’m no good.”
Lachlan Mitchell closed out the matinee performance with ‘Rehab’. The best moment of this rollicking performance was when the band finally unbottled itself, allowing him to step into a more gravelly and full-throated swing: “I’m gonna, gonna lose my baby / so I always keep a bottle near / he said I just think you’re depressed / kiss me, yeah baby, and the rest”. Mitchell demonstrated a remarkable but understated and restrained charisma on stage. He was a kind of bashful generalissimo - hands mostly in his pockets - beckoning the other performers to dance on stage before they finally brought the house down with Amy’s biggest hit.
The Jewish Museum of Australia, St Kilda Festival and Hear Them Holler should be commended for this outstanding cultural, historical and musical contribution to Melbourne. One reflects on the tragedy of Amy’s downward spiral and death, of the gaping hole she left in the music world, how her presence endures 7 years on, and how we waste many, many days not listening to jazz.