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Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
September 21, 2010
: any British white chick could do it. (Amy Winehouse
, cough, cough.)
There was no better venue in town to host Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: the Midland's sumptuous, velveteen interior only brought more glamor to the Daptone Records '70s soul throwback act. The only thing that seemed a bit anachronistic was the crowd. Mid-50s NPR fans, hot hip black couples, indie kids in plaid and girls in high heels and strapless dresses impatiently awaited Sharon Jones' emergence from backstage. (There was even a girl with a sign declaring her love for the 50 year-old soul singer, which Jones later kissed, and gave back to her. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.)
Around 9PM, the Midland's red velvet curtain lifted to reveal the Dap-Kings, dapper and toe-tapping in place, who launched into a medley of song snatches before Sharon Jones took the stage. How old-school is that? (I half-expected the mics to be the shiny, rockabilly-type a la Cadillac Records.) The lead guitarist, Binky Griptite, introduced the Dap-Kings -- who were dressed in black suits, with lavender shirts and skinny ties -- and began to sing. The bassist, who had a 'fro, acted as the conductor, jerking his bass neck to indicate down-beats.
Playing solo called attention to how eerily tight the band was. Griptite then introduced Sharon Jones to the crowd: "I'm talking about a super-bad soul sister. She's badder than bad. Y'all know what I'm talkin' about?" The brass section bobbed their shoulders and tapping feet, building anticipation.
The came Jones: standing five foot, with braids, in a funky, flowing dress and gold, strappy high heels, who looked as though she was going to burst at the seams and dissolve into shiny confetti. (The word "energetic" will not suffice.)
"Kansas City! How ya feeling?" she asked, jiggling her eyebrows at the crowd. It wasn't long before Jones was on her knees on the floor, wailing during "If You Call." Jones wasn't lacking spunk, and she didn't seem under the weather; but her mic seemed to be strangely turned down.
Following the second song, Jones told the crowd -- in a surprisingly hoarse voice, compared to the soulful wails issuing from her moments before -- that her sinuses were killing her. "Let me talk to my sinuses right now," says Jones. "What is wrong with you?"
A sick musician is usually a fucking drag; but in some supernatural show of soul and talent, the 54 year-old's voice only improved as the night went on. (Seriously, who does that?)
Sharon Jones doesn't need a Soul Train: as evidenced by "When I Come Home," she's got a saaaa-oouuuu-hhhh-l train to take her where she needs to go. (We're guessing that's probably funkytown.)
Most of Jones and the Dap-King's fare is mid-tempo songs that could blend into each other seamlessly, with uniform dance beats. It's nothing to complain about: that's hot, funky soul music. A good beat is a good beat, right?
That doesn't mean that Jones didn't switch it up every once in a while. "I Learned the Hard Way," punctuated by hot brass, Jones' backup singers and Jones' coy vocals, sounded more like Melanie than James Brown.
Then, the band threw it back to the grandaddy of soul, Sam Cooke, with "Momma Don't Like My Man." (Jones said that this was a tribute to Cooke, who could "just get up here and..sing," as she leaned backwards, in amazement.) A trifecta of talent with Star and Sondra -- Jones' backup singers -- made for a dizzying, chill-inducing moment. Jones channeled the dark sorrow of an early doo-wop chanteuse, with a thunking, off-kilter bass line and a stark drum beat. It was an oddly beautiful, haunting tribute.
Throughout the night, Jones had invited several young men on stage, to point at and pet while she sang. (The most notable was a tall black guy with dreds, who kept on threatening to take off his shirt -- and, eventually, succeeded. Jones asked him, "Who you with?" He said, "I'm with you.")
During one of the funkier dance jams, late in the set, Jones several girls on stage with her, but it backfired. "That's it! Not another person come on stage!" said Jones, when 21 people packed themselves onto the Midland's stage. Binky Griptite elbowed his way to the front of the stage and looked ready to kick some serious ass, but Jones patted him on the shoulder, and sent him away: she had this one.
"Naw, naw, naw, wait a minute. Aw, shit," she said, catching a girl with a ponytail by the arm. "Set the drink down, set the damn drink down!" she said, putting the girl's Dixie Cup cocktail down on the side of the stage.
"This is the first time I've had to stop the damn song," she said, pacing in front of the crowd of people on stage. "I know, I look a little mean, but if I can't control my own house..." The crowd cheered. "I'm goin' to bring it down. I gotta do what I gotta do!"
After letting the better part of the pit twist and shout on her stage, Jones devised a smart way to get the kids down: let them dance their way off. "This is the fun part," said Jones. Girls shook their asses and exited the stage in threes, while the band played an exit for each trio. I was far away at this point, but did recognize a singer from Hearts of Darkness, and a tall, skinny waiter from Lulu's Noodle Shop, who Jones admittedly "saved for last" to jam out with.
Let's take a moment a ponder how lesser musicians -- and lesser entertainers -- would have handled this moment. The answer is: not gracefully.
"About two hours ago, I thought I couldn't even sing tonight," said Jones. "I was sitting in the dressing room, biting nails I ain't even got. I got something to shout about," she said.
"100 Days, 100 Nights" sounded almost exactly like the recording -- maybe a little rougher around the edges, due to Jones' voice. When the band slowed the tempo halfway through the song, it was downright sultry, like a rocking train cab bound straight for hell.
Griptite came out after the song was over, and the band had exited the stage. "Y'all ain't moving," he observed candidly. He roused a chant of "Dap-Kings! I need some more!" before launching into a jazzy, Hawaii Five-O version of the Four Tops' "Reach Out, I'll Be There." Jones topped off the night with "My Man Is A Mean Man."
"When this mic gets in my hand, I lose my mind," said Jones. "I can't help it. Gonna take these heels off. Gonna take my earrings off. And I'm gonna break it down." Damn straight.
Critics' Bias: I am hard-pressed to find anything negative to say about this lady.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Jeebus is going to mess with Texas." (This is reference to one of the dorkier dudes who took the stage with Jones, who had pigtails, a fedora, and a Mess With Texas shirt. Way to be.)
Random Notebook Dump: Jones, explaining the meaning of "Window Shop": "It's when come little cute thing come by and I feel like I'm-a get whiplash, I turn around so fast."
I arrived during Orgone
's last number, after which the band got a standing ovation. I didn't catch much of the vocalist, but caught a lot of her undulating hips when the band jammed out during the last number of the set.
(Rough) Set List:
If You Call
Baby You've Got What It Takes (?)
When I Come Home
She Ain't A Child No More
I Learned the Hard Way
Momma Don't Like My Man
The Game Gets Old
Reach Out, I'll Be There
My Man Is A Mean Man