I was introduced to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings back in 2007. They were touring to promote their 100 Days, 100 Nights album. The band also was hot as hell off their collaboration on two of Amy Winehouse’s biggest hits. I didn’t know what to expect. The event was a birthday gift from my brother, who drove me down that night and back after the concert, arriving back in Fargo at 5 a.m. or so. In between, at the historic First Avenue and 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis, we stood for 4 hours under a staircase watching the stage.
I’ve been a fan ever since, but have not have the chance to see her since then.
Imagine if Tina Turner and James Brown had a baby, and you’d have Sharon Jones.
She’s a performer, a virtuoso entertainer with pipes and a bottomless well of soul to throw out over the crowd night after night. Even the onset of cancer last summer couldn’t stop her for long.
On Wednesday, April 9, Becky and I went to watch her in person at the State Theater. It was our first experience at this theater. And our first time watching Sharon Jones together.
I told Becky not to worry about raised expectations. Their albums are amazing, but in person, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings defy the concept of hyperbole, because there is no way on earth one can exaggerate how fucking awesome they are in concert. With 3 guitars, 3 horns, drums, bongos and back up singers, this is a big band with big sound to back up the biggest voice in the biz.
We got to the theater at 7:15, enough time to grab two special drinks they called the Dap Dip (bicardi, peach schnapps, pineapple juice, sprite and grenadine) and find our seats.
The State Theater is nearly 100 years old, and it’s easy to feel every year of that history still living in the walls and seats, especially since people in 1921 were uniformly 5 feet tall and 100 lbs., or so I imagine based on the legroom.
We got what we hoped were aisle seats, but ended up being wedged in next to the staircase. For some reason, I always feel bad making other people stand when I need to get out, especially in cases where I can guarantee my butt’s gonna be doing some serious PG-13 level grinding against them on the way past. I don’t feel that way when I am on the end though, and have to get up a lot. It’s one of the many things that I attribute to other people that I don’t feel myself. Same goes on airplanes.
It’s a similar feeling to be a big guy squished into a seat when the people show up that will be sitting next to us. I want to say I understand, I don’t want to sit here either, but this is what fate has given us. I end up cuddling extra hard with Becky to provide more room for the other person. Oddly enough, it feels even more crowded when we stand. I don’t think the space between rows was even the length of my shoe, so I had to pigeon-toe the entire time.
We watched the opening act, chatted, and waited as they tore down and set up for the Dap Kings.
Then the band came on. Binky Griptite gave us our main direction for the evening: “This is not a theater. This is a dance floor. So get up!”
The two back up signers each sang a song from their own recently released single. Then it was time.
Sharon Jones came out on stage, which is an understatement. When Sharon Jones enters the room, it’s more like the room has submitted to her awesomeness. She wore a dress as silver and reflective as a disco ball.
She tore the room apart with her opening number. As she started in on song two, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see the 60-something year old lady behind me telling me, like one addresses a toddler, to sit down so she could see.
I sat down, because I’m an obedient kind of person to that tone of voice. But immediately wondered what the fuck was happening. I looked around at all the other people, EVERYONE in the place, standing. The person behind me then started trying to yell for the people in the two rows in front of us to sit down as well.
WHAT THE HELL?
Becky started to worry about me and if I was enjoying myself. I said I would be OK, cause Sharon Jones was in the room and I knew that this shit would not stand. The Dude does not abide!
Now if we were at the MN orchestra and I was standing, I’d be perfectly in the wrong. But this is Sharon fucking Jones here, and she is slathering funk and soul on the masses.
So the very next song, I once again stood up, this time waving my arms wildly, clapping, dancing. Sharon Jones is not a passively sit back and watch type of performance. One experiences Sharon Jones. Thou Shalt NOT Sit at a Sharon Jones Concert.
Between me, the guy next to me, and the fact that there was no way this woman would be able to mob control the 6 or so rows between her and the front of the balcony, she and her companion left for some place where the insane go to sit and watch this concert like one watches a TV show. I didn’t notice this happening, but Becky said they left. By then I was fully invested in the stage. My cramped seat no longer mattered, the lady no longer mattered, only Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings mattered.
When I say there’s no way to hyperbolize the awesomeness of a Sharon Jones event, I mean it. She is a force of fucking nature and no video or album has fully captured the effect of seeing her in person. She will bend you to her by sheer force of will over the course of the evening. She throws her shoulders into her dancing like a linebacker sacking the quarterback. She pushes her voice through swoops and whoops that make you wonder how a human can do this every night, much less one that was diagnosed with stage II cancer, had several organs wholly or partly removed, underwent chemo and all in the last 9 months.
They had to push off this tour and album release from last summer so, as Binky put it, “Sharon could kick cancer in the ass.”
Her hair, once a weapon in her dance arsenal, is now starting to come back. She mentioned feeling crappy about it, and the other effects of chemo, over the evening.
She’s been on the road for 2 months now. And her energy level was enough to charge the atmosphere. She brought two young women on stage to dance with her, and they were no where near what she could do at 57. Later on the Dap Kings filled the stage with dozens of audience members.
Combined, they still couldn’t reach her level. This cartoon video is a pretty accurate depiction of the Power of Sharon Jones.
Sharon Jones can tell a story about fishing in New Jersey and infuse it with soul. Which she did. She’s that good. She can teach a whole theater a dozen dance moves from the 60s. We Mash Potatoed. We twisted. We Swam.
She’s barely 5 feet tall and I think she could touch the ceiling in the place.
Chuck Norris has been known to say “Sharon Jones? She’s too tough for me.”
Darth Vader was misquoted in Star Wars – he actually said “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.”
Sharon Jones came back out for her encore to sing Get Up and Get Out. At this point, she was preaching. We were her congregation and we were ready for her message. She thanked God that she was still here to sing when she didn’t know she would be less than a year ago. She dedicated the song to a fellow cancer fighter in the audience, to tell the cancer to Get Up and Get Out. She shared her deepest fears, and sang them to the heavens. She took all the crud that’s happened to us in the past several years, balled it up, and moved it from the pit of my stomach up into my throat where it got stuck until my heart expanded and there was no longer room for it. She put tears in my eyes and hugged everyone in the room with her soul and soul music.
Sharon Jones is a damn national treasure, and don’t you doubt it. And don’t you DARE sit.