On Friday night, I got to see another amazing concert by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, this time with a packed and energetic audience at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz. This is probably my sixth concert of theirs that I have been to, and each one is a powerful and uplifting experience.
First off, the Dap-Kings are the baddest soul band in the world. A full horn section, guitar, electric bass, percussion, drums and backup singers combine for a full, explosive sound. Binky Griptite the guitarist is a fantastic MC, with that classic 50s schtict intonations and phrasing: "Ladies and Gentlemen, are you ready to hear the funky sounds of the baddest soul band in the land?"
And when they lay it down, you simply have to dance.
But of course, the star of the show is always Ms. Sharon Jones. From the moment when Sharon saunters onstage, there isn't a second when she isn't completely in charge. Usually in some glittery, tight-fitting dress with the shoes to match, Ms. Jones takes her time and lets you drink her in as she takes the mic. She vamps and sashays sexier than you thought possible for a 55-year old. And then she lays into her first song, and the audience goes nuts.
Sharon has this ability to transform instantly between serious intensity and lighthearted banter that keeps you on your toes the entire time. As a former Riker's Island corrections officer, when this five-foot-one, middle-aged woman scans the audience and then seems to lock in on you, there isn't any question who's the boss.
Sharon employs her Riker's stare just before summoning someone up onstage with her to dance with her while she sings. Sometimes it's a young, innocent-looking man and she gives him a lesson on how to treat a lady right. Or it's a particularly spirited dancer who she wants to showcase. Or she will just bring up a bunch of ladies and let them gyrate behind her while she sings. There's nothing quite like being pulled onstage with Sharon Jones.
I've been called up a few times, pretty much every time I've seen her in concert to be honest. And it's always an intimidating, exhilarating, and powerful experience.
On Friday in Santa Cruz, I got called up twice, since Sharon knows me by now and has some sense of when a song works with the way I dance. I did my popping, grooving thing with Sharon, which the audience always digs. It all kind of rushes by in a blur for me, and takes everything out of me when I'm done.
Later on, Sharon even picked on Jeskat and me in the intro to her song "Window Shopping," warning me about keeping my eye from wandering. Really hilarious.
After the show, Sharon always sticks around to sign merch and get pictures with her fans. I got a big hug from her and introduced her to Jeskat. Sharon said to Jeskat, "well I wasn't sure it was you, because your hair is red on your Facebook." When does an international acclaimed artist remember the haircolor of one of her fans?
Clearly Sharon Jones gets as much as she gives from the live concerts. During one emotional interlude, Sharon shares how much her beloved mother has been going through lately, and how she sometimes questions whether she should be on the road performing so much. But then she remembers that this is what she is meant to be doing with her life, that this is her life, and it puts food on the table for her and her family.
To see this middle-aged woman, who toiled for years in obscurity, never wavering from the belief that her big break was coming, now featured on television, online, and onstage around the world, is one of the most inspiring stories I know. It gives this 42-year old confidence to go out and do my own thing with everything that I have.
And that's why Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings need to be seen live.
See the official Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings website for tour dates and other news, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook. And of course find their albums on iTunes, Amazon or your local record shop.