An explosion of energy and sound, Sharon Jones led her Dap Kings through a two-hour set at the Apollo Theater, Friday night, in support of their new record, I Learned the Hard Way.
A torrent of personality and vocals, Sharon Jones will make your feet ache. Singing for two hours, and accompanied throughout by her controlled collective, the Dap Kings, even Ms. Jones removed her silver sandals for a bit, the better to pantomime her ancestry. The story of her West African and Native American ancestors dancing was an inevitable climax to the group’s physical and musical storytelling, always best personified by their eponymous leader.
It wasn’t until about nine-thirty, Clad in a glittery aqua-frilled cabaret dress, when Jones finally sauntered onto the Apollo Theater stage. It was the exclamation point to guitarist Binky Griptite’s nearly hour-and-a-half-long opening sequence, first with Meah Pace and their band the Mellomatics and then as whip of the Dap Kings. The epic entrance and accompanying glitz were as calculated as the rest of the retrograde soul revue, a showcase culminating with Daptone Records’ premier act, and talent.
Ms. Jones was a commanding and unequivocal presence throughout her set—and every bit the tornado of sound, energy, and dance she was described as in her introduction. Grabbing audience members to come dance with her onstage, belting out economic woes (“Money”), breaking down every dance step (the mashed potato, funky chicken etc.) along a soul train itinerary, and even masterfully handling a drunk girl who climbed onstage at the wrong time, Ms. Jones was as controlled and confident as her incredible voice.
The Dap Kings, which swelled to an 18-piece band at times (with a string quartet, vibraphone, timpani, back-up singers and upright piano), played with infallible precision throughout. Shadowing Jones under the direction of bass player Gabriel Roth, the band took frequent solos, though only during a brief turn or vamp. Typically they just respectfully defer attention to Ms. Jones.
That is, until the encore. Never had I experienced such painful, drawn out gaudiness as in Mr. Griptite’s recapitulations. “Who!?...Who!?...Who!?...How many?!...The band can’t hear you!” The drawn out gaudiness, or the encore’s predictability, completely took the life out of “100 Days, 100 Nights”. It could be dismissed as another vintage tic the group has embraced, but even modernity can’t escape cheesiness.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings