Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Alley Katz, Richmond, VA- 2/1
Before any note was played, I felt the heavy, soulful funk looming in front of me. The Dap-Kings, clad in their dapper (bordering on leisure) suits took to the stage and warmed up the crowd before the star of the show, Sharon Jones, made her appearance. Yes, the funk was there for the duration of the Daptone Live Funk and Soul Review. The instruments breathed the funk without words until Binky Griptite (guitar) cajoled the crowd into getting down with their classic, smooth funk grooves. Most of the members of the band perform under stage names, adding to their cool hepcat vibe. In fact, the ambience the band concocted had a vintage swing feel contrasted against the deep, gritty funk undertones. They began their second piece of the night, the self-titled selection from their upcoming release, Hypnotizer, with Griptite on vocals. Homer Steinweiss on drums kept the beat going and driving forward, while Tommy “TNT” Brenneck (guitar) maintained a wah background. A horn section including Dave Guy on trumpet rounded out the stage. For a while I forgot that the setting was not even yet complete, as the Dap-Kings themselves seemed a wholly complete band. They next played “One Time in Your Mind,” another title from their forthcoming album, and “The Stroll” which fluctuated from regular time to double time and back. In “Funky Funky Love,” another new tune, the 70’s disco funk came on full force and even had a “freeze” section in which the band literally stopped motionless. They picked it back up with even more gusto.
I was half expecting to wake up in 1968 and see a youthful James Brown emerge from behind the lights. Instead, a female firebomb with just as much soul swaggered onstage, effervescent and haughty. After greeting the crowd, Jones said she felt like struttin’. “Who is seeing us for the first time tonight?” she asked the expectant audience. Half of the room cheered, so Jones told us she was going to show off. The band cued the starting licks of (the initial track from their latest release, Naturally) “How Do I Let A Good Man Down?” and the crowd went nuts. The bass-line was unforgettable while the rhythm section begged everyone to stand up and move at least a little. Next, Jones turned her strut up a notch on “Got To Be The Way It Is,” a track from their previous album, Dap Dippin’ With Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, explaining that something about the stage makes her lose her mind (of course, in a good way). She showed us that she felt the music within her, and she had to express it vocally and physically. Then she explained that her ancestors were from Africa as well as Native Americans, and that both of these groups of people had it in their souls to move with the beat of music. She can’t help but be soulful. She took off her shoes so as to gain better dance footing and loosened her hair and anything that may have been constricting her mind. She let go of everything, and that made the audience immediately connect with her. And this reckless abandon was within the first few minutes of her stepping on stage. I knew it could only get better.
The musicians geared up for their next tune, “How Long Do I Have To Wait For You?” which is incidentally the highlight of their current disc. Although the song seems like a peak on their album, they made sure that it was only merely a footnote in the grand scheme of their night of funk. Somehow what once seemed phenomenal now seemed the downtime for the rest of their epic. The band wanted us to feel it, and I couldn’t not feel it. I was all about it. Bosco Mann on bass led the band to their next track, “What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?” which moved a lot of people physically and mentally. His Fu Manchu draped over his lips revealing his secret weapon of funk. Little did most of the audience know that he penned most of the songs they were listening to that evening. The bass was all over the place as Jones got down into some business. “Your Thing Is A Drag,” another song from their Naturally album, was next on their repertoire. Producing the fastest, tightest funk possible, the Dap-Kings had the crowd virtually vibrating because the beats were so fast. You’d think after all this time everyone would be tired. Fatigue was far from anyone’s mind, especially the band’s. At this point I heard a song reminiscent of the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing,” but with a little more attitude. “Taxes” was actually the B-side to 45- single of their next song, “This Land Is Your Land.” This funky Woody Guthrie cover began with the first verse that every American knows, and then Sharon put her funky flavor seal throughout the groove. Virtually everyone in the room was involved in some way, and I could tell this was just the norm for the Daptone Records musicians. This was yet another moment in which I felt like I had slipped back into a late 60’s nightclub. Bosco stepped to the forefront yet again in “My Man Is A Mean Man,” employing some staccato bass. Keeping up with him was beyond my comprehension, I realized, as the people around me began vibrating again.
Finally the group took somewhat of a breather in a slower, calmer tune, “You’re Gonna Get It.” Slowing down was relative, however, to the high intensity of the evening. Jones gave it her all at a slightly different pace. Next, the Dap-Kings pumped out the fastest funk grooves all night, until Sharon jumped on the mic and paid some tribute to fellow Augusta, Georgia native James Brown. She then got down some more as she exhibited the trendy dance moves of the 1960’s. From the pony and the jerk to the funky chicken and the mashed potato, she churned out the classic moves. She had some serious gravy with her mashed potato. Then she led the audience in a call-and-response while the band played a line that reminded me of Cannonball Adderly’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”
Griptite had the audience literally yelling and begging for more after the band left the stage, so the musicians came back out for one more number. Jones came back to sing “Genuine” and brought a member from the audience on stage to dance with her. The men love Jones; that was apparent. And indeed, they have good taste. The 4’11” soul bombshell is the perfect complement to the classic funk tone of the Dap-Kings.