[Photos by JONATHAN VALANIA]
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER There was a prevailing mood of giddiness in the air at the Fillmore one night back in December, a palpable sense that we were lucky enough to attend a very auspicious occasion, one above and beyond the usual concert experience. A sense that we were all active participants in poetic justice, and by ponying up for a ticket and selling out the joint, a long-neglected talent was finally getting her turn in the sun. As Sharon Jones will be the first to tell you, record executives have long told her that despite having pipes of gold, she was too short, too wide, too black and, come the ripe old age of 25, too old to fit the Whitney Houston cookie cutter — consigning her to the B-list exile of day jobs and night club gigs, through which she gamely trudged yeoman-like for years. Until now. The now being a year after Amy Winehouse made the world safe for gutsy, take-me-as-I-am retro-soul with her break out hit, “Rehab”, from the Grammy-nominated Back To Black — for which The Beehived One employed Sharon Jones’ backing band, The Dap-Kings.
Some have gone so far as to suggest that Amy Winehouse is the new Pat Boone — a blander, whiter face put on something considered too raw and black for mass consumption. The only problem with that Internet meme is that — setting aside for second that Winehouse is exotic enough in appearance to be of indeterminate race to the casual observer — it completely ignores the charismatic power of the writing on Back To Black. “Rehab” is one of those ultra-rare songs that rings everyone’s bell. Song like that don’t come around often, and no matter what she puts up her nose or bangs into her arm — seemingly annotated daily in the British tabloids in excruciating hi-res photographic detail — does not change the fundamental fact: she rang the bell.
Nothing on Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings’ splendidly authentic 100 Days, 100 Nights manages that nearly impossible feat — despite Jones’ mule-kick vocal power and the Dap-Kings’ evanescent hints of the Booker T’s MG’s, Smokey Robinson’s Miracles, James Brown’s Fabulous Flames and Otis Redding at his most bittersweet. All of which were on display that Friday night at the Fillmore and then some. Jones was regal and fierce, truly a force to be reckoned with, literally shining like a diamond in her sparkly vintage dress. The eight-piece Dap-Kings lived up to their name, each sporting a stylish vintage suit, like they just stepped out of a Krass Brothers ad from 1968, but never once stepping out of the pocket — not when they played it nice and easy, nor when they played it nice and rough, as Tina Turner used to say. And like all the best soul music, it felt like a resurrection and a coronation. But most of all it felt like a party.
Hard to split the exact difference between soul and funk — and for that matter the blues — without somebody getting their feelings hurt. Except to say that funk, much like disco, does require a certain degree of knowing the right moves and wearing the right clothes. With soul, I suppose, its universal and, I suspect, eternal appeal will be that it only asks that you have one — a soul, that is, and when an act like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings fire it up, you respond in kind simply because you are alive, and as such you invariably hurt, because everybody hurts. That’s the blues. But tonight, you are here, and I am here, and we are all together. And that is worth celebrating — righteously so — because for this brief and shining moment, nothing can hurt us. That’s what soul music is…Either that or gospel music wearing sexy underwear under its robes. Take your pick.
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings play The Roots Picnic Tomorrow