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Stoned Soul Picnic

By Paul Rapp

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Mass MoCA, North Adams, Mass., May 23


We’ve been waiting what, oh, five years or so, for somebody, anybody, to bring Sharon Jones to town. (Note to local venues: Duh-uh, people really, really like soul music.) Getting Ms. Jones and the Dap-Kings for Mass MoCA’s big anniversary party was a brilliant, inspired choice, and while I can’t begrudge the museum the $80 ticket (it’s their party and they can charge what they want to) hopefully the next local gig—which better be soon, dammit—will be something everybody can afford.

The Hunter Center was packed with a couple of generations of shined-up socialites, Important People (Hey! There’s Michael Dukakis gettin’ his jammy on! Fo-shizzle, Gov, and rock on, Bro!) and the-hell-with-my-car-payment artsy types, all yellin’, dancin’, and checkin’ each other out. It was pretty surreal, which in the context of Mass MoCA is saying something.

Which brings us to Ms. Jones. Holy moly! I have never, ever seen anyone work a stage or a crowd harder, or better. She’s a tiny lady, and she prowled, she owned the stage, dancing like a primal dream, engaging and including the crowd, while yelping, howling, and testifying like this was the Apollo in 1961 and everything was possible. She was yanking people onto the stage, almost to the point of distraction. A beaming blind guy, very big people, very little people, a line of young lovelies, shimmying and singing the choruses—and a young man jumped onstage, grabbed one of the lovelies, got down on one knee (as the band vamped quietly) and proposed. Ms. Lovely grabbed the mike and said yes, the band cranked it, Sharon hugged everybody. Next song. Unh! Heh! Good God!

The legendary Dap-Kings band (three horns, bass, guitar, drums, percussionist) were dead-on, perhaps a little understated. I’m tempted to say they’re too Brooklyn hipster by half, but I won’t. I mean, they’re the friggin’ legendary Dap-Kings band, they made Amy Winehouse sound talented fer chrissakes, and look at everything else they’ve done in the last 10 years. All due to respect to Justin Timberlake (or not), these are the folks who brought sexy back. But dudes, you’ve gotta have one of the best gigs in the world—it’s OK to show us you’re enjoying it.

From James to Otis to the beginnings of Sly, this was a greezy textbook of sweaty soul. The only thing lacking was the sound quality, which was distant and not particularly lively. It was clear enough, though, and it may well have been as good as it could possibly get in the big, gymnasium-like room. But this stuff should shake your pant leg, blow your hair back, and hijack your heartbeat.

Next time.

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