“Albany is in the house tonight,” sang Sharon Jones as she ran onstage at the Egg in a turquoise dress that glittered with fringe and sparkles. Backed by her eight-piece Brooklyn retro-soul revue the Dap-Kings, Jones belted out the heart-rending opening-number “If You Call” and then shimmied energetically through the more uptempo “Without a Heart.”
Both songs, and much of the set, were drawn from her latest album with the Dap-Kings, I Learned the Hard Way. As the title suggests, the album is rife with first-rate tunes about hard luck and romantic heartbreak. But live, Jones—whose short stature belies her power as performer—raises the energy level to the rafters on even the most world-weary songs.
A few songs in, she danced like a dervish across the stage during “When I Come Home” before executing a series of kitschy dance moves from decades past—including the Boogaloo, the Funky Chicken and the Tighten Up. The biggest wonder of the night may have been how she pulled off the James Brown-worthy moves in a pair of precarious-looking silver heels.
“We play all kinds of festivals, but it’s great to see you all sitting here and standing up when we finish,” Jones said, sounding truly grateful, as she thanked the almost-sold out crowd in the Hart Theatre (according to a later post on Jones’ Facebook page, the Egg was just 18 seats shy of selling out). “We’ve been doing this for a long time without the money. We do it for the love.”
While Jones’ album may be all about the hard times, her past year with the Dap-Kings has been pretty blessed—with a critically acclaimed recording, performances on Jay Leno and other late night talk shows, and an opening gig for Prince at Madison Square Garden last week that ended with Jones onstage and out-dancing the Purple One during his encore of “A Love Bizarre.”
Her moment has come, and it’s not so much a result of luck as it is the culmination of years of hard work and constant touring. A former Rikers Island prison guard, the 54-year-old Jones also did time in numerous wedding bands before meeting Gabriel Roth, the Dap-Kings’ bassist and co-founder of Daptone Records, a label dedicated to vintage-sounding 1960s-style soul and funk.
“The Grammys don’t recognize us because we’re independent. One day they’re going to have to recognize this independent label,” Jones said about Daptone before she ripped through an excellent version of her fed-up-with-love anthem, “The Game Gets Old,” faking a hook to punctuate the lyric, “I’m back in the ring with my boxing gloves.” She explained that “Ain’t A Child No More,” with its monster groove, was about a child too old to take abuse from her drunken parents, and teased the crowd before “Mama Don’t Like My Man” by showing off her vocal skills on just a taste of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” All great stuff, even if a few of her best songs were left out of the set (“Money,” “Better Things to Do”).
As Jones pulled women from the audience onstage to dance with her before the end of the show, it was not hard to see what must have made her the best wedding singer of all time—a level of showmanship and drive to entertain that could get even the most boring party started. “Meet me by the merch table,” Jones implored after an encore of her signature “100 Days, 100 Nights” and the sweet-Jesus gospel of “Answer Me.” Sure enough, after the show there was Jones, making her way through the lobby of the Egg to meet fans at the merch table.
The Albany audience was one of the first on this tour to see what Jones and the Dap-Kings are calling their “Soul Review,” featuring opener Charles Bradley, a fellow Daptone Records performer, members of his Menahan Street Band and backup singers, the Dapettes. Bradley, with a James Brown Jones but shakier looking knees, belted out some impressive sounding soul on tracks from his recently released, No Time for Dreaming.