Better Than: Pretty much everything.
About a month ago, Sharon Jones was finishing up her final chemo treatment in an attempt to trounce the cancer that threatened to silence her. Two weeks ago today, she announced that she was cancer-free. Last night, she launched her 10-week comeback tour at the Beacon Theatre by kicking off her shoes, pulling members of the audience up onstage to dance with her and powering through two hours of a flawless, nonstop soul marathon.
See also: Sharon Jones Rebounds After Cancer
To say the woman is an unstoppable force of nature would be an understatement.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings had a difficult 2013, one darkened with sickness and the stalled release of Give The People What They Want, which was originally intended for an August release and a subsequent tour. They’ve been chomping at the bit to get back out there, to get back onstage, to pile the small, swinging orchestra of blaring brass and bass beneath the proscenium as the dynamo leading the charge makes her entrance and gets to back to work. The new Sharon Jones that emerged from the wings of the Beacon Theatre last night burst out and ran to the edge of the stage to greet her adoring public, but the introduction wasn’t about receiving applause and waving politely. Her friends were there. Her people were there. It’s been a long time, and they had some catching up to do, and the anticipation hanging between Jones’ microphone stand and the outstretched hands of the front row was unbearable, and then she sang.
You’d think that the time off—in which the entire context of Give The People What They Want had changed entirely, as Sharon and the Dap-Kings had written and recorded it before her diagnosis—would lead to an intimidated tour, one where Jones takes it easy and works her way up to the bottomless lung capacity and energy supply fans have come to expect from her. NOPE. Give The People‘s 10 tracks laid a solid foundation for the set list, and a handful of covers (notably “Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “This Land Is Your Land,” which turned into a dance-off with a fan and fellow cancer survivor that Sharon pulled up from the front row) made it perfectly clear that Jones and the Dap-Kings were having just as much fun as the shaking and screaming crowd before her.
“100 Days, 100 Nights” was one of the stand-out moments from the set, but Give The People is the calling card of a new, stronger Sharon, with “Stranger To My Happiness,” “You’ll Be Lonely” and “Get Up and Get Out” eliciting riotous applause with every concluding drum lick. There must be an invisible, magical string that ties Jones’ hip to the strings of Bosco Mann’s (aka Gabriel Roth, the Dap-Kings’ bandleader and Daptone Records’ co-founder) bass, because every check, shake, swivel, punch or sigh was mimicked with the finessed flair of the Dap-Kings. Jones anticipates the band’s reaction, the band anticipates Jones’ outbursts, and the result is a captivating study in chemistry that stresses the rarity of a musical connection like theirs.
There was a terrible moment of unknowing where the Dap-Kings abruptly left the stage after the last song in the set, a confusing second or two where it had appeared to be that the Dap Kings had gone over (even though they were well within a two-hour framework) and would be lumbering into the dressing room before launching into “Retreat,” Jones’ motto and Give The People‘s first single. Thankfully, it was a fake-out—we really should’ve known better—and the people did get what they want for the ominous, exceptional anthem that’s gone from a vengeful, love-scorned warning to a fierce, steadfast mission statement. Sharon Jones will not be beaten, not by a dude who did her wrong or a faceless villain attacking her insides, and anyone that feels otherwise better get the hell out of dodge.
Critical Bias: Maybe that’s just it; Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings in their current state are determined and divine, and the fact that they’re out there at all considering what they’ve faced in the past few months is worthy of a standing ovation in and of itself.
Overheard: “Since I don’t have hair, I’m gonna shake my head!” The only notable difference between the Jones we knew before Give The People What They Want and the Jones we know now is that she’s no longer sporting braids. Before catapulting into a one-woman dance marathon that covered everything from The Jerk to The Twist to James Brown’s Camel Walk, Jones headbanged without hair while cracking jokes at her own expense. (And who said you need hair to headbang, anyway? It’s not “hairbanging.”)
Random Notebook Dump: “FEELINGZ.” Throughout the set Jones called out to plenty of friends in the audience, including a group of folks from Sharon Springs—the oh-so-appropriately named town upstate where she was living while in treatment—and Dr. Leonardo, who not only greenlit Jones’ eagerly anticipated return but came to see his star patient rock her return to the stage. The lights came up at the Beacon throughout the set, and one can only assume Jones wanted to see the faces of her friends and loved ones—who’d come out in droves to see her—as much as they wanted to see hers.