After a wait that seemed as long as his nearly four-decade career, the R&B legend Screamin' Jay Hawkins took the 9:30 club stage Friday night. Although Hawkins' deep baritone has thinned and his notorious stage act has calmed down since the days of yore, he was just as eccentric as ever, buttressing the theory of rock's voodoo roots. Wearing a wildly patterned suit, Hawkins wailed, snorted, cock-a-doodle-doo'd, grumped and squawked his way through an uneven set of New Orleans-flavored boogie-woogie rock and blues.
Having brought only longtime sax player Barry Sullivan along, Hawkins was backed by the local act Tough Luck, which reportedly had only 10 minutes of rehearsal before the show. Sullivan's mournful playing enlivened the funky blues piano of Louie Jordan's "Early in the Morning," and other high points included a rollicking rendition of Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and the warped carnival waltz of Hawkins' best-known hit, "I Put a Spell on You," for which he donned a lovely pair of tusks. But "Constipation Blues" and "Shout" were labored at best, and despite Steve Jacobs' beach-party guitar, "Bite It" was a poor attempt at outrage that couldn't get beyond its tiresome frat-house sensibilities.
Hawkins came closest to his wild-man reputation in "Feast of the Mau Mau," performed with some pyrotechnic thrills and the grisly effect of a disembodied rubber hand whose fingers kept time to the beat.