Dip dappin’ with the Dap-Kings. The odd and mysterious phrasing is emblematic of a band, the Dap-Kings, who have revolutionized the way that modern audiences view soul music, giving it new energy and new life. Running out of their own Daptone Records in Brooklyn, the Dap-Kings have created a soul music factory, pumping out albums and stars like the apex of the Motown machine. Thursday night’s concert at the historic State Theater brought several of those personalities to Ithaca, opening the show with the Dapettes, moving on to the bluesy soul of Charles Bradley and closing (read: bringing the house down) with Sharon Jones, the true star of the show.
Bradley immediately started off with a powerful vocal burst, introducing the audience to a tone that is weathered and soulful. He screams in a way that shows the aches and pains of the blues, opening with “No Time For Dreaming,” which featured what could be his mantra, “No time for dreaming, got to get on up and do your thing.” He referenced a long history of soul, with grunts and moves that could have been performed by James Brown or Eddie Murphy’s brilliant turn as James “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls. A highlight of his act was an achy, soulful cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” with its everlasting line “and I’m getting old.” Soul music may have been around for a while, but Bradley was energetic and sprightful.
From the moment Sharon Jones stepped on stage, she commanded it. Entering to a barrage of cheers and screams, Jones is a celebrity in the world of soul music, appealing to an older crowd who can remember her style of music firsthand, and a younger crowd that is attracted to it for its vintage hipness. She supplies both, with a fresh take on a classic sound.
Her first tune off the bat highlighted the way she physicalizes her music. As she listed off her body parts, “these feet, the knees, these arms,” she moved with it, foreshadowing a performance that would be filled with some of the most recognizable and far out dance moves the State has likely ever seen. Not only did she make the stage her own, swaggering about from one side to the other throughout the whole performance, but she made the audience shake too. On several of her solo numbers, she brought up fans from the first row, dancing with them to bring to life a lover she was singing to, or a bad boy her mama just didn’t approve of. She painted real life images for her audience, both with her body and her voice.
If the voices that came before her tonight could be described as high or low, smooth or haggard, Jones’ sound quality could best be described as full and versatile. One of the early songs in her set, “Without a Heart,” is a fast paced dance number that got the audience moving in the pit in front of her. As she moved the audience with her, she stopped them with a single line — “I can be cold as ice.” As the music faded, and her tongue lingered on the last word, all of a sudden the audience fell silent. The next second, though, they were right back jumping around, as the Dap-Kings picked up and Jones kept on belting it out. A few numbers later, she hit hard again with “When I Come Home,” a quick and heavy number. Featuring rhythmic percussion and sharp horn bursts, Jones took the opportunity to show off more of her dance skills, breaking down into the Boogaloo, the Funky Chicken and the Swim. She also called up Bradley, who boogied onto the stage to join her in demonstrating an original take on the Camel Walk. She closed her set with “100 Days, 100 Nights,” the group’s signature number. The refrain of “100 days, 100 nights” was repeated by the Dap-Kings even after Jones had left the stage. The encore picked up with an instrumental version of the Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” reunited with Jones for “Keep On Looking” and closed with one of their latest singles, “I Learned The Hard Way.”
While the name behind the stage may have been Jones’, the real stars of the show were the Dap-Kings. Over 10 players strong, the soul men and women feature a trumpet, tenor sax, bari sax, percussionist, two drum kits, electric bass, three electric guitars and two backing vocalists. Playing for almost three hours straight, the band proved that they are one of the tightest, most perceptive live acts touring right now. While definitely a backing band, yielding the spotlight to the various voices that fronted the stage, they are the heart of the whole organization. They opened and closed the show, demonstrating a mastery not only of musicianship, but also showmanship, getting the audience pumped up and cheering along to the Dapettes, Bradley and Jones. Not that they needed much help, though.