It is said that pastiche must be better than the original to truly succeed. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings understand this little maxim better than most you feel. By indulging so faithfully and so passionately in the sound and style of classic Motown soul, Mrs. Jones and her band position themselves slightly beyond the reach of criticism. They work with cliches, not against them. In all likelihood, they aren’t even aware of them.
Taking to the stage of a giddy Tripod dressed in a shimmering blue dress, surrounded by her undeniably classy band, she looks every inch a star. Sounds it too. They dive straight into the sound they know so well only to be held up on the second song by a broken drum. A quick shuffle of the setlist later and we’re treated to ‘Mama Don’t Like My Man’, a bare, gospel-filled song that has the whole room swaying gently from side to side. As soon as it’s over though, we’re right back to jams.
As much as it the Sharon Jones show, there is a reason this is billed as Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. The Dap-Kings are the real deal, a truly talented group of genuinely musical people. No one stands out; each player is working for the others, listening to each other as much as themselves. The set winds on, one groovy funk track blurring indistinguishably into the next, morphing and shifting in real time at the behest of its conductor.
Over the best part of two hours the repetition becomes almost draining with the insistent appeals from the stage to twist, shout and generally shake it in every way possible becoming harder and harder to comply with. The set finishes on Jones’ biggest ‘hit’ so far, ‘100 Days, 100 Nights’. This is a breath of fresh air, slowing everything down and ramping up the soul to maximum capacity. It builds to a infinitely funky finish and makes one think of the impossibility of topping it with an encore. But with guitar solos, balloons and a pack of girls picked from the first row dancing on stage, those two songs prompt the most party like moments of the night.
You won’t find anyone pushing any musical boundaries or taking soul music in all new directions. No, this is a show where you disregard all pretensions and surrender to the 110 pounds of screaming pop-soul perfection that is Sharon Jones.
Photos: Alan Moore.