Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings at State Theatre, 4/9/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Tony Nelson

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
State Theatre, Minneapolis
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sharon Jones has always been a fighter. Like many of her labelmates on Brooklyn's soul-revival record company Daptone, she toiled for years in relative obscurity, working as a correctional officer to pay bills and watching as her bids for stardom were repeatedly shot down by a business that seemed to have passed her by. Even after her career began to take off in her early 40s, Jones never received success on a silver patter, building it instead through years of hard-nosed touring, watching all the while as younger, less singularly talented performers made millions by cribbing from her playbook.

Ms. Jones' resilience was tested again in 2013 when she was diagnosed with bile duct cancer, and she spent the better part of her year in and out of intensive surgery and chemotherapy. Now, a mere four months after her last round of chemo, the indomitable singer returned to Minneapolis for an incredible, cathartic performance. 

See also:
Slideshow: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings at State Theatre

In the grand Soul Revue tradition, the Dap Kings began the evening with an instrumental show band anthem, riffing handily before guitarist and emcee Binky Griptite introduced Jones' backup singers, the Dapettes, as a warm-up act. The pair have just begun to release music under the moniker of Saun and Starr, and their time behind the wheel was a truly pleasant surprise. While they didn't take up much set time, the two women left a strong impression, taking the classical duet style of a group like Sam and Dave and adding a girl-power garnish.

After an entertainingly hyperbolic introduction from Griptite, the main act was on deck. "She's the brightest star in the Daptone Universe," the guitarist bantered, "110 pounds of Soul! She wanted to be back sooner but she had to take some time off to kick cancer's ass! Ladies and gentleman...Miss Sharon Jones!"

Photos by Tony Nelson

With that, the star herself shot onstage with nary an iota of her previous energy missing, though beyond her constant and ineffable charisma, Jones looked very different from the last the we saw her. With her hair slowly growing back from from a shaved state and a frame that looked a few pounds south of what Griptite advertised, the whole thing could have been troubling if her performance wasn't sensational right off the bat.

Making a huge entrance with lead single "Stranger to My Happiness" back to back with "You'll be Lonely," Jones wasted no time whatsoever gathering the crowd into the palm of her hand. Shimmying across the stage with the spry movements of woman half her age, Sharon is the type of utterly magnetic performer that seems to find the process of entertaining an audience as natural as breathing between notes. Winking sassily at a photog, Jones reeled him in for a kiss without missing a beat of the Dap Kings' precisely charted stings. During the outro to the rare 45 rpm single "Calamity," the singer challenged bassist Bosco Mann (aka Daptone head honcho Gabriel Roth) to a call and response duel on their respective instruments. Sharon won. Of course she did. When it comes to singing, Sharon always wins.

A consistent complaint about the other singers on Daptone is that their output is often heavily reminiscent of other landmark artists in the genre, but Sharon Jones is very much her own animal. While touchstones such as Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross are obviously influential on the singer's delivery, their presence provides mere guidelines, like a well-worn recipe book only checked occasionally for inspiration or specifics. Sharon carries herself with the regal bearing of the former, but their's a flinty intelligence behind her megawatt-smile that speaks of her own life's struggles. After "Now I See," Jones joked about wishing she could whip her missing hair around, but it was quietly obvious that its loss pained her.

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