(all photos by Jesse King)
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are certainly crowd pleasers. Theyâ€™ve built a solid following over the last decade or so with albums of vibrant 60â€™s style funk and soul, as well as diligent touring. Theyâ€™ve turned even more heads with their latest record, I Learned the Hard Way, which already sounds set to top â€œbest-of-the-yearâ€ lists come December. Heading into their show at the Southgate House on Monday night, I felt a collected energy of anticipation in the crowd (consisting of everyone from young hipsters and partiers to graying hippies and soccer moms on a girlsâ€™ night out) that Iâ€™ve rarely felt at a concert, especially on a Monday night.
Openers the Heavy were impressive if only because they were able to build on this energy. Mixing hard neo-soul with garage rock, the English band gave the audience a taste of the 60â€™s stylings they had come to hear, but with a harder twist. Up-and-comers themselves, with high profile television appearances and lead track â€œHow You Like Me Nowâ€ appearing in car ads, this might be one of the last tours the band serves as an opening act.
As the excitement mounted and the crowd pressed in, the Dap Kings finally took the stage. To say that they were musically on-point would be a severe understatement. Everything, from the guitar work to the drumming to the backup singers and rich brass, was strictly in time and sharp as a knife. Bassist and songwriter Bosco Mann directed the group with coolly silent determination as they rolled along like well-oiled, supersonic soul review machine. When trumpeter Dave Guy belted out the notes to â€œWhen the Saints Come Marching In,â€ during a musical segue, the sound was so piercing and intense that I almost felt sorry for the trumpet.
After a couple warm-up songs, Sharon Jones burst forth and joined the Dap Kings onstage. Dressed in a multicolored tasseled dress, Jones danced, jumped, and shimmied her way through a furious collection of rocking soul tunes. Ever the entertainer, Jones teased the crowd with tongue-in-cheek admonishments over the low audience turnout for her last couple Cincinnati area shows and pulled audience members on stage to dance to the music.
As the show progressed, Jones proved that the Dap Kings exist as more than just a 60â€™s revival act. During an extended instrumental number, she fervently detailed the influence of what she called her â€œtwo sets of ancestors;â€ Africans and Native Americans. She engaged in renditions of African and Native American tribal dances while making passionate proclamations about the persecution of both groups in early American history. This, as well as her explanation of the themes of child abuse surrounding I Learned the Hard Way track â€œAinâ€™t a Child No More,â€ displayed how the group applies personal and meaningful themes to the genre theyâ€™ve revived.
Sonically, theyâ€™re an original entity as well. The amazing thing about the Dap Kings is, although each song sounds as powerful and catchy as a classic James Brown or Isley Brothers tune, they all consist of strikingly original melodies and lyrics. Similarly, while Sharon Jonesâ€™ powerful voice has earned comparisons to greats like Aretha Franklin, her smoky croon and intense yelp reveals a solidly fresh style.
-John Crowell (@terriblesounds)
Regardless of their time and place, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings make independently amazing music filled with passion and explosive energy. And, with the release of their new album and the quickening pace of their musical career, they seem as if theyâ€™ll carve out their own unique place is soul royalty.