Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Valerie June House of Blues February 25, 2014
Soul music is the alchemy that turns pain into gold, but it takes a proper soul revue to polish that gold until it shines. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings radiate soul with the magnitude of their fearless leader's mirror-ball gown.
Tuesday night before a slow-cooking House of Blues crowd, the Brooklyn R&B brawlers put on a high-energy clinic of style and and endurance that lasted a stout 90 minutes but felt over in a heartbeat. It was one of those shows where even casual fans could get sucked in completely, but one where those who appreciate proper soul music could relish every detail.
That started with a warmup by the eight-piece Dap-Kings -- three guitarists, three horns and two drummers -- and then one song apiece from backup singers "Star" and "Song." Then a duet between the two to get things nice and loose before the main attraction, introduced by bandleader Binky Grip-Tite as fresh from "kicking cancer in the ass."
Jones, if you hadn't heard, took an unexpected detour on the route to promoting the group's third album in about a decade, Giving the People What They Want, when she was diagnosed and treated for cancer last year. Tuesday she especially delighted in the added meaning to new songs such as "Get Up and Get Out," where she exclaimed "I told cancer to get up and get out!" in a moment that could have come from a thousand Sunday-morning Baptist church services. You got chills.
The Dap-Kings are mostly younger fellows with an encyclopedic knowledge of all the different neighborhoods in Soulsville -- Muscle Shoals, Motown, Stax/Volt, Chicago style, and dozens more that are way too obscure for us to know about. But the way they use those vintage sounds never feels fusty or dated, or overly academic.
Every last blast of horns or chicken-scratch guitar break or conga part -- especially during a "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" cover that Jones was careful to point out came from Gladys Knight & the Pips, and not some other version -- was screwed in place like a top-of-the-line automobile or wildly expensive piece of military hardware.
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But mainly the Dap-Kings were there to back Jones up as she ran in place (in silver heels, no less), shimmied like a go-go dancer, and stalked the stage with confidence and poise, while letting loose a tide of vocal energy most of us will only witness live a few times in this lifetime. She compared herself to Tina Turner about halfway in (so people like us don't have to, we guess), mostly in terms of height, but the gist of the evening went a little further than that: we were witnessing a true survivor whose throat has been touched by the Almighty and whose boundless energy spread to the audience like the best kind of disease.
The evening climaxed in a feverish, rapid-fire, super-compact dance lesson, where Jones ran through a host of past dance crazes -- the Pony, Mashed Potato, the Jerk, Funky Chicken, James Brown, Camel Walk, Funky 4 Corners, Peppermint Twist, the Swim and even the Wobble -- as the Dap-Kings furiously vamped on a groove so tight you could bounce a quarter on it. Allow us to suggest our readers spend the remainder of the morning on Wikipedia, because we know a lot of you could stand to brush up on a few of those.
We think we'll try the Peppermint Twist.
Personal Bias: Soul Brother No. 281.
The Crowd: Sparse at first, but filled in nicely until the very end. Some of them need some serious Mashed Potato lessons, though.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Sock it to me!" -- Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels in the intermission music
So, How Was the Opener? Memphis singer-songwriter Valerie June is a strange creature, toting all sorts of odd-looking banjos and exotic folk songs that felt transplanted from the Depression era by way of a postmodern science-fiction novel. (Or something.) She was thoughtful enough to remember her first Houston show at Leon's Lounge a few years back, and seems to be just now entering her prime. That hair, too.
Random Notebook Dump: We gave away probably 20 pair of tickets to the show on Rocks Off Monday and Tuesday. Cactus Music did a similar promotion, giving away a ticket with each purchase of GTPWTW. We were happy to do it, but neither of us should have had to do that for a band of this caliber...shame on you, Houston.
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