Monday, February 07, 2011

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings @ Grand Opera House, Wilmington, DE

On the last Friday in January of 2011, with streets in Wilmington still not cleared from the 8 inch snowfall on Wednesday, the whirlwind of energy know as Sharon Jones and her band, the Dap Kings, came to the Grand to see if their heat and eternal gyrations could melt the unplowed pile of white stuff.  While the slush and snow cones still waited for us after the show, it was with a slide in the step and a jive to the jump that were the end results of watching this remarkable performer and her just-right-tight band do the thing that they do so well.   It was a night of music, movement, and laughter that will not be soon
forgotten; even Mr. Kundera would have worked up a sweat and possibly dis-jointed a hip.

The Dap-Kings, the house band for Daptone Records, started up the show (probably better described as the Soul-Funk Revue), with guitarist Binky Griptite acting as MC for the evening.  All the musicians are dressed tight with nary a t-shirt nor un-beltedpants amongst them.  Mr. Griptite's serious carriage and especially crisp sartorial appearance let's you know from the get-go that this WILL BE a night of serious musicianship and too much fun for most humans to possibly stand.   Two short songs fronted by each of the backup singers, the Dapettes, opened the show up setting the stage for Ms. Jones....

....who delayed her entrance so that the special guest for the night, Mr. Charles Bradley, could promote his cause. And a worthy cause it was. Along with 2 members of his own group, the Menahan Street Band, Mr. Bradley performed 3 selections from his new release, No Time for Dreaming. Mr. Bradley looks as if he may be Tracy Chapman's older brother. If you thought Tracy Chapman's songs were road-weary tales of lives gone wrong, well, Mr. Bradley's songs are based on road maps through Dante's Inferno. His stage presence is a James Brown shadow and I mean that in a positive way. Where Mr. Brown's physique suggested a solid all-consuming form on stage, Mr. Bradley projects fragility and grit both in the same Brown-ish dance steps he splays out. The hitch in his hips give you a shudder that he may throw out a joint; you lean forward thinking you may have to hold him up. His voice struck me as similar to a favorite soul singer of mine, Charles Walker, although Mr. Walker's range and depth are at a higher level. Both singers have the requisite plea in their timbre that get you right in the gut. Charles Bradley ended his set with an incredible version of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold", the listing of destinations in the song dead-on with the travels and travails that Mr. Walker's face revealed.

A short break to wipe away the "Woahs!", the curtains re-open, the anticipation awaits its answer.
Mr. Griptite (o.k...o.k., I'm with you here...."Binky Griptite" can NOT be his real name, right?) re-starts the band after the Dapettes take up their roost by the drum set and he whips the audience to a froth so that when Ms. Jones sallies unto the stage, shimmering and shaking in her two-tone above-the-knee slinkware, the evening's set for constant motion. Her dress was of this style, I guess you may get away with calling it Flapper-Ware, with fringes that must have been sewn on using Kevlar so as to withstand the shaking that Ms. Jones put the dress through. The Ever-Loving Wife, who had tuned into my fascination with SJDK by perusing the CD collection and decided that a suitable holiday gift was a ticket (or two..) to see the Dap-Kings, was hooked. Here was this diminutive dynamite of a woman belting out a tune while seemingly shaking every shakable part of her body in concert with this fabulously tight band pushing her on and on.
Apologies for not laying out the set list! The songs covered were many with most diving into last year's release, I Learned The Hard Way and 100 Days 100 Nights, but the highlight of the show revolved around Ms. Jones choreography and song cycle revolving around her African and American Indian heritage.

Escaping the confines of her shoes, she padded on bare feet toward the center of the stage, taking the audience with her to a village in Africa. As she began dancing slowly raising her legs so that her toes reached her knees, she recounted her legacy. The drumbeat and bass lightly pounded out the rhythm, gradually building the tension and increasing the beats. It was primitive. It was primal. It was quite sensual. She then segued into a different dance, toes pointed downward but still rising high to her knees as she sang and talked about her American Indian background. The ELW whispered that MS. Jones seemed to have risen out of the earth with her movements. The Dap-Kings, with emphasis on the tom-toms increased the beat and the volume until there was a stabbing silence.

Then, bedlam broke loose and Ms. Jones combined the African and the American Indian movements into a frenzy that had her costume defying sewing logic by staying together. She took a (very) short breather; the audience was exhausted.

Then, as is her custom she brought another audience member on stage to "help her out".   Ah ha.   Her eye is sharp, her character assessment dead on. She invite, through the course of the evening 6-7 folks to the stage, one at a time, to "assist" her. With each invitation, a suitable song was performed. One character had been a pure pest up at the front of the stage. He knew her tendencies and was counting on being one of the chosen few. She dialed him out a few times, at one point noting, "Honey, you’ve got to cool yourself down if you want to join me up here."

Eventually, he calmed down enough such that Ms. Jones did invite him up for a dance. While she sang, and while she set her tassels a-jangling, she also kept Mr. Slim Gin at a safe but useful distance. Her previous employment as a prison guard @ Rikers Island and as an armored car guard for Wells Fargo served her well, although Mr. Griptite, while strumming the rhythm guitar, kept a wary look on Mr. Gin to make sure no unwelcome actions were thrown in her general direction. Appropriately enough, the song selection was Better Things .    Mr. Gin was the right man for the job in this case but he certainly did not do Wilmington proud with his stage manner nor dancing.

Other notable songs in her set were "Window Shopping" and "Mama Don’t Like My Man", both from the 2010 release, I Learned the Hard Way .   The latter song was done solely with Ms. Jones and Mr. Griptite on guitar,with the Dapettes cooing and Ahumming in the background.  Ms. Jones went out with a flourish with the audience clapping for an encore for a solid 5 - 7 minutes.  It was almost too much to ask for; if she didn't return, we would have been fine with it.  She had gone through a sizable songbook with barely a pause to refresh.

But, she did return to introduce each band member so as to allow them some solo time and a signature.  It was a complete and professional performance tailored for this particular hungry audience.  Most probably, this will be the best concert of this young 2010 season for Wilmington; Sharon Jones had set a high standard to beat.

Here she is with Charles Walker (one of my faves, his 2003 release, Numbers By Heart, is a long time favorite of mine) doing "Summertime".  Unbelievable.....

Ms. Jones doing "Amazing Grace and "How Long", her way.
...and just one more version of , "Better Things"

Her latest CD is "I Learned the Hard Way"....and since good things always come in threes, why don't you also pick up "100 Days, 100 Nights" and "Naturally" while you're pondering which one to pick.   You will not be disappointed.  Most importantly, though, is be sure to see her and the Dap Kings when they are anywhere in your vicinity...
...and be sure to get zooted up.  You can't be wearing sweatpants lounge wear or khakis to see Ms. Jones;   she's got better things to do..

Sorry for the late posting!  Blogger crashed and burned on me last week, taking with it most of the post, so the memory banks were put to the test to re-create the verbiage & the order.


Ah, but your wife knows how to keep a husband happy. If Ms. Jones' MySpace page is any indication, she's determined to stay south of the 49. I am green, green, green with envy.
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