Sharon Jones: A Soulful Sacrifice
Sharon Jones is touring and doing so with a message that epitomizes this character. She is someone that can light up and energize a room with her smile and her voice. She is every bit as flashy as the glittery dress she dons -- dancing, shaking and sparkling. Bubbling with confidence and joy, she draws you in with her sex and sass-appeal but sweeps the legs with her sinister pipes. In concert, you fall in love with Sharon Jones, but if you don’t know her story, it's easy to overlook her most inspiring aspects. Live and in person, she is a showstopper, and certainly commanded the full attention of a sold out crowd on Friday night at the Vic Theater on Chicago’s north side.
Jones also just happens to be three months removed from her last chemotherapy treatment for pancreatic cancer. So the bewilderment of seeing the energy and presence she carried with her on stage, translates to an even more amplified adoration and admiration.
I don’t know what feat leaves me more awestruck, the strength required battle the disease, or the resilience that allowed her to hit the road -- and hit it hard -- just a short while later…to not only put on shows and a tour as she is doing, but to do with the exuberance she brings to the live setting. So many different occasions incited goosebumps and jaw-drops on Friday evening.
The recently concluded tour was in support of Give the People What They Want, an album written prior to being diagnosed with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer. The release was first delayed, then pressed, while Jones was still going through treatment. The meanings of plenty of those songs take on new levels with this knowledge, as if the material was written while she was recovering.
The album provided the bulk of Friday’s material, with the exception of "Tell Me", "100 Days, 100 Nights", "This is Your Land" and Marvin Gaye’s "Heard It Through the Grapevine", which she made her and the Dap Kings' own. It made for a contemplative night, but regardless of the song list, just being in the room seemed monumental for anyone lucky enough to get a ticket. The buzz that filled the atrium and under the marquee on Sheffield was unmistakable. As she mentioned to Marty Lennartz on XRT earlier in the day, “I believe that God kept me here because I have a story to tell.”
Jones’ career arc is evidence of a universe that can sometimes put people right where they need to be. The part-time gospel singer was working as a corrections officer at Rikers Island and was a frequent talent show participant, but didn’t get her break until 1996. She was discovered by current Dap Kings bassist and co-founder of the renowned Daptone record label (such artists as Budos Band, Lee Fields projects, Charles Bradley, Sugarman 3, and previously Antibalas), Gabriel Roth (aka Bosco Mann). It wasn’t until 2002 until she formed her own band and took center stage.
During the hour and a half set, it was hard to not strictly focus on Jones, whose magnetic personality and sequined disco ball dress threatened to grab every bit of attention. But what was going on behind her was worthy of plenty of notice as well.
The rhythm section of Fernando Velez (or ‘Boogaloo’ as referenced in the video below) and drummer Homer Steinweiss laid down a swirling percussive trench all night. Binky Griptite's hollow bodied guitar tone and Bosco Mann’s foundation of funk locked grooves with the epic and experienced horn section all night: undeniable, exhilarating leads by Neal Sugarman (Daptone Records co-founder / Sugarman 3), Cochemea Gastelum (20th Congress), and a few spots for trumpeter Dave Guy (who performed with Jones on Phish's Halloween 2009 cover of Exile On Main Street).
The Dap Kings got a few moments to stand alone on stage before announcing the entrance of Jones and before the encore, including a jammed out funky dance party with the crowd invited up on stage. Their mixture of tireless soul, funk and afrobeat would have exposed this band as one of the tightest live act in America, even if they weren't supporting such a strong personality with a supernatural ability to inspire and educate.
April 11th, 2014 - The Vic Theater - Chicago, IL
Stranger to My Happiness, You'll Be Lonely , Long Time, Wrong Time , People Don't Get What They Deserve, Slow Down Love, Retreat!, Tell Me You Love Me, I Heard It Through the Grapevine (Marvin Gaye cover), When You Love Me, Making Up And Breaking Up, Better Things, Now I See, Get Up and Get Out, 100 Days, 100 Nights
This Land Is Your Land