How is it possible that the genre that spawned almost everything that came after it, managed to almost become extinct? Little Richard begat Chuck Berry who begat Elvis Presley who begat The Beatles. That is only one lineage but you can make a family tree tracing what used to be called “Black Music” into almost everything that exists today. If you look over the list of the most influential musicians of all time a great number of them played soul, RnB, gospel and funk. Thankfully in the last decade there has been a revival of all that is funky reminding us all on how to learn to love to dance again. The biggest reason you can thank for this resurgence is The Dap-Kings, who are the backing band of neo-soul singer Sharon Jones. This band of technically skilled players who have rhythm pumping through their veins first gained notoriety by being the session players on Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black album.
Now that the history lesson is out of the way, let’s get one thing clear; no one knows how to control a crowd quite like a soul singer. Sharon Jones who only found success starting in her 40’s worked the stage like someone who had been performing for 40 years. The show started out with The Dap-Kings coming on stage solo and playing an intro like they were the house band of a 1970’s game show. The Dapettes, the bands two female backing singers, Saun Williams and Starr Duncan Lowe, came out first and performed two songs off their own release, a 45 put out on Daptone records. It set the stage perfectly, as while there was an opening act, having someone get the crowd going right before the main act is invaluable. They played Hot Shot and Gonna Make Time, which was reminiscent of old girl groups likes the Ronnettes, except with more wisdom in their voices. These ladies showed of their impressive range by hitting plenty of high and sustained notes to the funky beat of The Dap Kings.
When Jones finally hit the stage guitarist Binky Griptite gave her an introduction worthy of a prizefighter. Griptite opined that they have always wanted to play Massey Hall, and why not? It was a legendary jazz club back in its heyday and since then became a temple for artists like Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Jones was wearing a shiny blue dress and had the band set up in a large semi-circle to give her plenty of room to move and dance about. On You’ll Be Lonely a vengeful song the horn section shone brightly with a beat that would make Blood Sweat and Tears happy.
Jones invited a male fan on stage to dance with her for the entirety of Long Time, Wrong Time from their latest album Give The People What They Want, which got the whole crowd roaring. He matched her different moves and played a cute game of cat and mouse. Jones made sure throughout the set to interact with as many people as possible. Whether it was talking and waving to the balcony sections or giving high fives to people in the front, it was a very inclusive show. A few songs later she tried to egg people on by wondering aloud if the woman in Toronto can dance as well as they can in Montreal and Ottawa. It was a direct challenge pitting our regional rivals against us. She encouraged a bunch of woman in the crowd to join her on stage and prove that our local ladies can match them groove-to-groove. Jones taught them salsa moves to match with a Santana-like percussion beat. Halfway through this dance fest she brought an older lady on stage and who turned out to be Jones’ aunt. She helped sing the song and at the end Jones had a roadie take a picture of them.
Jones proceeded to tell an anecdote about how the band wasn’t going to play Get Up and Get Out like it was recorded on the album. She said there was nothing wrong with the album version but the Dap-Kings wanted to slow it down a bit. She then thought how would someone like Tina Turner play that song. She started doing her best Tina impression including saying if she wanted to give it more swagger she just had to put her legs into it. Jones threw off her shoes to help her stomp her feet better. The song started out as a slow burner with James Brown like stop and starts. Then after the first verse it all got kicked up a notch and the pace kept speeding up. The great thing about a funk and soul show is the crowd claps on beat and by the end it was a flurry of applause all on time.
Jones who spent most of the past few years fighting pancreatic cancer did a singsong rendition talking about her recovery period. She talked about the chemo and all the surgeries she went through and how it has been a year since her last treatment. She was eager to get back to touring against the wishes of family and friends who felt she was rushing to quickly back since touring can be very strenuous. It wasn’t a sad emotional moment; it was a happy emotional one. She credited her fans for giving her the strength she needed to get better. We were all attending mass at the church of The Dap-Kings guided by the high priestess Sharon Jones who performed from the books of Redding, Brown, Franklin and Turner.
During the encore the band once again brought a bunch of ladies on stage who took this opportunity to dance with the band members, Griptite seemed to enjoy it the most. He had one lady in his arms and still managed to play guitar while she danced with him. As the ladies exited they stage he also scored several kisses goodbye. The band, in all their glory, was absolutely in time with each other and fed off the energy of the crowd. It was a shame that the vocals were a bit too low to make out a lot of the quitter lyrics and intimate fan interactions. The band commented on how the next time they come back to Toronto they wanted the second balcony level to be open and filled to the brim, so everyone had better invite their friends to the next dance party. Soul’s not dead, it just needed some time to regroup and emerge from Daptone records.