Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Where: Alix Goolden Hall
When: Friday night
Rating: 5 stars (out of five)
Binky Griptite summed it up the best.
Griptite, the jive-talking guitarist and MC for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, grabbed a microphone and declared, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is an old building. We gonna tear it down!”
This was after Jones had finally exited the stage following a blistering performance that surely rivalled those of James Brown in his heyday. The audience ushered the four-foot-11 spark plug back on stage by thunderously stamping their feet. Up in the balcony of the Alix Goolden Hall, a former church built more than a century ago, it seems like the upper level in real danger of collapse.
It’s hard to say when it becomes apparent that a good concert is, in fact, a great one. On Friday night Jones proved that she is almost certainly the greatest living soul singer touring. Backed by the Dap-Kings, a 10-piece band that’s so tight it hurts, she sang, strutted and danced her way into some kind of ecstatic music nirvana. And each of the 800 people at the sweaty sold-out show knew it.
The dramatic was intensified by the fact that Jones recently survived pancreatic cancer. The singer had her last chemotherapy treatment just a few months ago, on New Year’s Eve. Her tour and release of her latest album, Give the People What They Want, had to be postponed. As Griptite explained to the crowd: “She had to take time off to kick cancer in the ass!”
It is clear that Jones — known for the intensity of her performances — has decided she is not only going to match what came before, she is going to exceed it. Although she’s performed in Victoria many times, this was her most explosively energetic show in this city to date. As my companion put it, perhaps summed up the feelings of everyone assembled: “I don’t remember her being such a dynamo!”
A short-haired Jones, in a white dress with dangling gold earrings and matching shoes, kicked off her set with Stranger to my Happiness, a single from her new disc. Propelled by the percolating crackle of a three-piece horn section, the song is about a woman abandoned by a new love. But on this night, it seemed like Jones was singing of her own recent illness. And the fact she has emerged so victoriously transformed the song into a defiant battle cry.
Ushered by Griptite, the audience had immediately rushed the stage, with those in front — mostly 20-somethings — dancing and bobbing their heads. This gave the show greater immediacy as Jones sang inches away from her fans, seeming like a gospel preacher giving the sermon of her life. At one point she invited a young man to join her, the pair dancing a sexy boogaloo as Jones sang and grinned mischievously. Towards the end of the show, the entire crowd was invited onstage to boogie as the sharp-suited Dap-Kings delivered a groove-happy version of Funky Broadway.
Jones, at times, seemed to be battling sound problems. She mentioned feedback (not discernible from the balcony). She also mentioned the hall’s echoey acoustics, which are unsuited to electric music and should be addressed.
Her voice was as powerful as ever, big and sexy during ballads, often shifting into a keening rasp on high notes. Like any great soul singer, Jones knows concerts are about showmanship as much as the music. At one point she offered a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Tina Turner — “I’m gonna do this song slow... and then I’m gonna do it fast!” — before shucking off her shoes and doing a hyperactive dance, yelling: “Oohhh!”
A obvious fan favourite was Jones’s mid-show dance class. Shouting “Victoria, watch me!”, the singer showed us various 1960s dances, such as the jerk, the twist and the swim. It was here that the 57-year-old’s energy level reached a jaw-dropping level, as though Jones was retaliating against her recent brush with mortality by channeling some unstoppable life force.
The show offered many selections from the aptly named Give the People What They Want, including I’ll Be Lonely, Long Time Wrong Time (notably for it’s Creedence-like guitar riff) and Retreat. Also notable, the summery bop of Better Things, I Learned the Hard Way and the stuttering funk of How Do I Let a Good Man Down.
By the time the band played 100 Days, 100 Nights, the hall was so hot, it was refreshing to feel the breeze from people clapping their hands. In the middle Jones broke the song down, orchestrating shots and doing funky dance moves before resuming at a slowed down, irresistibly sexy tempo.
The final encore was a funkified interpretation of This Land is Your Land, an ecstatic declaration of brotherhood, with Jones glad-handing the crowd as Griptite yelled, over and over: “Miss... Sharon... Jones!”
It was, simply put, a tremendous performance.
British soul singer/guitar James Hunter offered a fine opening set — notable for his gritty vocals and percussive guitar style — backed by the Dap-Kings’ Griptite (on drums), bassist Gabe Roth and percussionist Fernando “Boogaloo” Velez.