There’s a certain edge to Sharon Jones’ voice that, despite their best efforts, 20-something soul revivalist queens like Adele and Amy Winehouse can’t quite capture. It’s a sound borne of five or so decades of the best and worst life has to offer, of blue-collar jobs and deferring (though never quite giving up) the dream of being a soul singer. And though the sound of Sharon Jones and her Dap-Kings was slightly muted due to neighborhood association requirements at Wednesday’s Botanic Gardens show, all the grit and toughness and strength of that voice still shone through.
The Dap-Kings, all skinny suits and sunglasses, took the stage for their introductory routine, swaying in carefully calculated unison and sporting their trademark museum-piece instruments. Billing the night as a super-soul revue, Dap-King Binky Griptite assumed the mantle of the evening’s emcee. The Dapettes, the Dap-Kings’ other two female voices, each took the mic for a song of their own before taking their spot at the back of the stage. And then, there she was…Sharon Jones in a blur of sequins and fringe, a 55-year-old former corrections officer with all the screeching soul attitude of Tina Turner.
With all the dancey energy of a “Soul Train” special, the band flew through their set of old songs and new, with more than a few surprises. During “Are You Gonna Give it Back,” Jones demanded that security allow a porkpie-sporting fan onstage for a one-on-one dance performance. She alternately kicked off her heels when the dancing urge struck and put them back on when the mood called for a strut. Between-song dance breaks ranged from ’60s vintage moves (during which the crowd funky-chickened and ponied at Jones’ command) and an impassioned story/song about African slavery, Native American genocide and the common thread of dance to preserve and protect a culture.
As the end of the two-hour show approached, just as I could almost imagine one of the Dapettes carefully draping a bedazzled cape around Jones’ shoulders, the strains of what would be the last song began: James Brown’s unmistakable “A Man’s Man’s World.” Pointing out that she and Mr. Brown shared the same hometown of Augusta, Ga., and birthdays a mere day apart — it’s clear that Jones shares a kindred spirit with the godfather of soul. But what Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings do is well beyond mere imitation. There’s real soul in this soul, and there’s only one way to get that sound: the hard way.
Cassandra Schoon is a Denver freelance writer and regular Reverb contributor.