For her small stature, soul singer Sharon Jones carries a mighty wallop. As she's miraculously shown, she can handle a lot, including a scary bout with pancreatic cancer last year. The diminutive dynamo that she is, she overcame the disease with chemotherapy, which, in turn, has enabled her to get back on the road and do what she does best ... whip an appreciative crown into a hot, sweaty, manically dancing frenzy. And that's exactly what she and her trusty backup crew, The Dap Kings, did last Thursday night at St. Petersburg's State Theatre. [Words by Gabe, photos by Tracy.]
While illness seemed to be no match for the feisty Jones, a troublesome sound system proved to be a thorn in her side. Not long after taking the stage following tasty warm-up numbers from her band and her pair of stellar female backup singers, Jones came out swinging, clad in a short, tight, brightly-colored dress. Opening in fine form, Jones instantly began belting out a scintillating version of "Stranger To My Happiness," one of the many fine cuts from her latest offering, Give The People What They Want. With her horn section pumping out the right amount of brass and sass and her backing singers Saun and Starr echoing her soulful croons, the show was off to a rousing start. And then things seemed to take a downturn. As the always-present grin slowly started to fade from Sharon's beaming face, it became apparent things weren't going along as planned.
Apparently, Jones is used to hearing an audible vocal feed thorough her own front-stage monitors as is common with many singers. But that wasn't happening on this night. ones was struggling to hear any sound at all, it seemed, as she made a few gestures and motions to the sound crew manning the board for the evening. The mix didn't seem to improve with each passing number and her gestures turned into stern declarations. "I can't hear myself at all...I can't do this all night!" Jones warned, fearful that she'd resort to overcompensating and straining her voice in an attempt to get a read on what she was putting out.
The problem proved to be an unworkable situation for Jones, who politely but adamantly excused herself: "I'm gonna take a little break," she announced. "They're gonna get this right!" And with that, she vanished from the stage. In the move of a consummate professional, Binky Griptite, lead guitarist and leader of the Dap Kings, led the band into a hot, funky instrumental as the issues were resolved.
After a few minutes, Jones returned to the stage and seemed determined to make things right. "If I can beat cancer, I can beat this," Jones declared and in what seemed to be a visual display of resolve, Jones' demeanor and mood changed in an instant and the evening turned up. She and the Dap Kings launched into a steamy, chugging version of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" that more closely resembled Gladys Knight's more upbeat, danceable version than Marvin Gaye's slower, sexier version. What would have been a catastrophic diva-like episode wound up being fuel for Ms. Jones to treat an adoring, tightly packed, dancing crowd to what would end up being another authentic, bona fide, soul music extravaganza as only Jones and the Kings can provide.
A sincere apology from Sharon to the diverse crowd and to the sound crew followed and then it was time to get back to business. As she danced frantically all over the stage, interacted with fans in the crowd who showered her with inspirational signs, stuffed animals and plenty of love, and even invited a few up to dance alongside her, Jones brought back an ethic that's been sorely missing from concert stages for too long: fun. Her always present smile lit up the entire venue and it was hard to tell who was savoring the performance more — her or her crowd of admirers.
Jones, who turns 58 later this year, moved and boogied with the spirit of a teenager. While her hair still hasn't grown back after her chemo treatments, she assured us that it would one day ... but she joked it'd probably come in gray. And then she kicked off her high heels and continued to lead the band and fans into an energetic frenzy.
Jones packed every ounce of her overflowing charisma and boundless energy into a 90-minute set that seemed to fly by in an instant. Besides belting and crooning with her distinct soulful howl, Jones also gave us a history lesson in dance: she called out and demonstrated plenty of moves from years ago, which some even joined in on. We were treated to lessons in the boogaloo, the jerk, the mashed potato, the pony, the funky chicken and the camel walk "like James Brown used to do!" Jones joked. For some of the older folks in attendance, these dances were probably a throwback to their younger days. For the 20-somethings who grooved all night, these might have shed some new light on some new moves. Either way, everyone seemed to be enthralled and taken with Sharon and her pure showmanship, all night long.
- Tracy May
- Hard-buzzing blues-folk songstress Valerie June opened the show.
- Tracy May
- Valerie June