Live: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
For the unknowing, Sharon Jones spent most of 2013 fighting cancer. Therefore, I’d expected that her high-energy shows of the past would remain in the past, but this night proved me so wrong. In fact, if anything, the cancer she had has made her even stronger, more energetic, and full of life.
Luckily, I arrived early, at least 20 minutes before the opener, Valerie June. That was a good thing, because as it turned out, there was no photo pit. The crowd was arriving late, though, so there was a spot right up front with my name on it. When I got the photo pass, they told me “first six songs,” which was strange, because usually it’s the first three, so I thought to myself that maybe I would leave after four songs and go around the venue and get some longer shots after I felt satisfied with my close-ups. More on that later.
Valerie June was interesting. She is a bluegrass Americana singer-songwriter with a Dolly Parton Tennessee accent who just happens to be black. She’s a striking, Lisa Bonet-looking woman with Bob Marley dreadlocks — very interesting to photograph. Her songs were simple but packed an emotional punch. As an opening act, naturally she kept it pretty short, but for a couple of songs, Binky Griptite from Sharon Jones’ band, The Dap-Kings, joined her. By the end of her short set, she had the growing audience wrapped around her fingers.
Sharon Jones and her crew took their time getting out to play. I spent this time chatting with neighboring fans and finding people who go all the way back to The Continental Club with the band, and one who was even a personal friend of Binky’s. I got the feeling that her real fans go way back with her, and it reminded me of my first time seeing her (on Levi Johnson‘s recommendation) at Walter’s on Washington back in 2008.
The curtains finally opened at about 10:15PM, and out came the wrecking crew of a soul band known as The Dap-Kings. I knew the drill from previous shows that they would do a warm-up song, and I got my camera ready to take as many individual shots as I could so that when Sharon Jones came out, I could solely focus on her.
But the band threw a curveball at us, and it was a great one. The band had the backup singers each sing a song as part of the warm-up. It was a fantastic idea, because it gave Jones herself a slightly shorter set to have to deal with as she gets used to being back on the road, but maybe even more importantly, it gave the backing singers a chance to shine. After that performance, they could go into the studio and cut their own albums for Dap-Tone Records and have no problem selling them.
This was about the time I realized I was three songs into my six songs of photography. Ah, that’s why they gave us photographers six songs! (And I have to mention that I was the only one right up front…although the other photographers I saw I know have better lenses than mine.) Only three photo songs were with Sharon Jones herself, so I decided wisely to stay at the front where I had camped out, take my three more songs’ worth of photos, and then slyly hide my camera before security could see I still had it. Then I spent the rest of the set right up front.
And Sharon Jones is the type you want to be right up front for. I can’t count the number of times she looked me directly in the eyes like she was singing to me and appreciating her audience, and she did that for everyone in those front two or three rows, even reaching her hand out to hold fans’ hands and encouraging us to dance with her. Highlights of the concert for me included “100 Days, 100 Nights,” “Retreat,” and obviously the dance medley where she proceeded to do every dance popular in 1965 (I think 8-10 in all!).
I was thinking about 50 minutes into this amazing concert that it was nearing the end, but it lasted all the way up to midnight, with Sharon dancing and singing and loving the audience loving her. In the end, I went home thinking this was the show of the year.
I guess that’s enough words from someone who was speechless at the end of the show; enjoy the photos! END
(All photos by Jason Smith.)