Several weeks ago we saw Sharon Jones @ the Music Hall in Portsmouth. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are one of the better (and most popular) of the neo-soul bands, groups that mine the rich soil of 1960’s/1970’s American soul music. These groups satisfy a desire for a more organic, traditional and rootsy African American music.
I first saw Ms. Jones at Jazz Fest in New Orleans several years ago and came away from this Portsmouth show with essentially the same opinion. Ms. Jones (an ex-Riker Island prison guard) is the real-deal, a foot-stompin’ nuclear powered soul bomb that looks the audience dead in the eye (literally) and dares them to not have a good time. She has the driven desire to entertain that has always struck me as the hallmark of many of the great soul singers I have been lucky enough to see.
The Dap-Kings on the other hand are certainly not soul royalty despite the self-proclaimed moniker. On later introspection the Dap-Kings reminded me of the white blues bands I used to see many years ago, musicians that were well meaning and sincere, who get all the notes right but completely missed the target. Other than the drummer, who seemed incapable of conjuring up any kind of a groove, the band sounded fine but unable to maintain that deep, righteous rhythm that soul music needs. With their vintage instrumentation the sound was spot on and all the notes were “correct” but the performance possessed little of the spirituality and gospel fervor that this music needs. Because of their diligence about sound and technique they sound better on recordings then live.
Despite all that, the show, with its fun “soul review” kind of vibe, was enjoyable and Jones is such a powerhouse with an obsession to entertain that is truly undeniable. It did make me long to see Ms. Jones with a band worthy of her talents, say, Booker T and the MG’s, The Bo-Keys or the Hi Rhythm Section out of Memphis or the Wardell Quezergue band or Lil’ Buck and the Topcats from New Orleans– now then we would be really getting’ way down in the alley!