Dap-Kings' thundering soul
Brooklyn band brings joy to its stronghold of Chicago fans
BY JEFF ELBEL
“So, y’all are really serious, ain’t you,” called Dap-Kings guitarist and emcee Binky Griptite to a thundering, sold out crowd at the Vic Theatre. “That’s how Chicago gets down on a Friday night?” Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings may hail from Brooklyn, but they’ve clearly built a stronghold in Chicago. High-profile sets playing to indie-rockers at Lollapalooza in 2008 and a huge mainstream audience at last year’s Blues Festival have seen the band’s local presence balloon. “Last time we were in town, half of y’all was here,” enthused Jones. “You must have gone back and told someone.”
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are given due credit for reigniting the sound that made immortals of artists including James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. It’s fair to call the group '60s and '70s soul revivalists, but the room wasn’t packed with period fetishists. While the Dap-Kings squeezed sparks from the funky “When I Come Home,” a multi-generational, multi-ethnic crowd watched the band earn its reputation as one of today’s tightest live acts. “Stops on a dime every time,” Griptite had boasted during the Bobby Blue Bland cover the band used to warm up the crowd.
Introduced as “110 pounds of soul excitement,” the diminutive Jones wailed and strutted like Tina Turner while railing against corporate greed during the brooding groove of “Money.” She brought a young Chicagoan named Eric on stage to dance during the lovelorn “Give it Back.” Dressed head to toe in Blackhawks gear, Eric had forsaken his home team on game night to see Jones. Sharing the stage was an unforeseen bonus.
“The Game Gets Old” added horn-laden Philadelphia soul to the band’s mixture of Motown and Stax-inspired rhythm and blues. “She Ain’t a Child No More” pulsed with tense rhythm, underscoring a true tale of an abused child who grew up to challenge her parents. “You better watch out,” Jones warned errant elders before beginning the song. “One of these days, she’s going to grow up and ain’t gonna take yo’ mess.”
No frills were necessary in the band’s presentation. The simple stage was strewn with vintage music gear, eight players and two backup singers. By the time the band concluded the smoldering intensity of “100 Days, 100 Nights,” the stage was decorated with as many glistening drops of Sharon Jones’ perspiration as the glittering “SJDK” backdrop hanging above drummer Homer Steinweiss.
During “The Way it Is,” Jones told a story about her ancestors. She described troubled times for west Africans during the slave trade, and for Native Americans during early American settlers’ expansion West. “Maybe if we did a dance,” said Jones, imagining the leaders of her forefathers’ tribes, “we could bring some peace to this land.” Jones’ frenetic demonstrations of those dances shook the stage, as the Dap-Kings threw down a furious boogaloo. Whether the group can summon world piece is questionable, but they’re able to bring joy to hundreds at a time. That’s a great start.