Old-school sonic sass highlights the recent concert by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
In “The Queen of Kings,” the Dec. 7 Syracuse New Times article with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings that previewed their Dec. 10 show at the Westcott Theater, Jones laid it on the line: “We’re not playin’ around.” Honey, she meant it.
There are no games when the Dap- Kings are in the house. In an era of bands that bump along in jeans and T-shirts, crude and crass, letting the music take them where it may, the super-tight, ultra-polished group brought class to the Westcott stage, almost as if Motown guru Berry Gordy brushed them up himself. They danced, they swayed, their horns popped and, most of all, they hit the music on the money every time.
From the first notes of the show, the well-dressed band—including trumpet, tenor saxophone, bari sax, percussion, drums, rhythm guitar, lead guitar and bass—spread in an arc across the stage to let everyone know they had arrived. They were clean and loud, but not overbearing, led by fearless bandleader Bosco Mann.
As the gang kept the backbeat going, guitarist and emcee Binky Griptite dictated the way with clever stage banter.
Griptite also introduced the “Dapettes,” Starr Duncan and Saundra Williams, who each came out for a short solo song before mounting their platform behind the horns. It’s a good sign when the backup singers are better than most other leading ladies.
Griptite skillfully built up the anticipation, getting the audience worked into a lather to get the woman they were all waiting for to take the stage. From the first moment Jones emerged from behind the horns, the air became electric. With a short, tight, blue sparkle-covered dress, with layers of fringe swinging with her every move, she instantly commanded everyone to focus on her. If there was still a stray eye or ear not looking in her direction, once she opened her mouth to sing, there wasn’t a question: Everyone was hooked.
Jones’ incredible stage presence morphs between playful and serious, but remains steadily entertaining, and she was clearly in control of the entire Westcott venue. Although her energy was unbridled, it took the crowd longer to get past the awkward-bob stage; they didn’t really start getting down until the halfway mark. Regardless, Jones was belting like Aretha Franklin and shakin’ like Tina Turner from start to finish.
The band did a nice job of throwing pieces in both new and old and Jones, like the great James Brown, helped make the show about more than the music. One of the crowd favorites was a dance marathon that had Jones performing various steps—the Swim, the Mashed Potato, the Pony and more—and even the band had a chance to shake it out.
“This Land is Your Land” roused the gathering and the funky “Pick it Up, Lay it the Cut” got people moving, including one audience member that Jones invited to share the stage. The unassuming flannel-shirted, baseball-capped dancing dude showed off near-breaker moves, hitting the basics of crip walking around Jones like he knew the drill. The interaction was perfect, as the two went back and forth with Jones getting bootylicious like Beyonce. The dancer even followed the command to “lay it in the cut” and hit a near split.
When Jones exited the spotlight, Griptite explained that when the Dap-Kings left the stage, that was it for the night. So the crowd responded mightily for an encore, as Jones came out for a microphone-melting “100 Days, 100 Nights” that had the room leaving on a high.
Although Motown-flavored bands like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings used to be common in the 1960s, seeing them today is a treat. It’s not often a band mounts the stage at 9 p.m. and doesn’t let up until they leave it just before 11 p.m., without a pause or hint of confusion. They run a tight ship at Daptone Records and the Dap-Kings are a solid crew. In this ensemble, Sharon Jones makes one hell of a captain.