Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is one of those ancient mill towns that dot the New England landscape. In recent years, the good people of these towns have realized that many of these old, but perfectly good buildings can be re-purposed instead of being torn down. The old mills have been turned into condos, office spaces, and retail centers, among other things. A great example of this reuse is the building that I visited in Pawtucket last week that houses a farmer’s market, a nice restaurant, and best of all, a very fine music venue called the Met. As you might imagine, the wide open spaces and high ceilings of these former industrial buildings are perfect for presenting musical, as well as other kinds of live performance.
It was my third visit to the Met, my second since moving to R.I. a few weeks ago. Previously I’ve seen terrific shows there by the Felice Brothers, and Bettye Lavette. Last week I was there, full of anticipation, for a performance by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. To be honest, in my opinion Sharon Jones and her band have not yet lived up to their potential in terms of their studio recordings. The live show, however, is a completely different story. I know this because I watched as Sharon Jones blew away the crowd at the 2010 Newport Folk Festival. She is one of the most dynamic performers I’ve ever seen, and she is backed by one of the tightest, most soulful outfits at work today.
In addition to the Dap-Kings, the show also features two backup singers known as, what else, the Dap-Ettes. All of this refers of course to Daptone Records, the great Brooklyn label that is home to Sharon Jones and a number of other powerful soul artists. Each Dap-Ette got a chance to do a song before Dap-King guitarist and bandleader Binky Griptite introduced the star of the show. Griptite has carefully studied the emcees of the past, and does a great job of continuing the long and storied tradition of the soul revue introduction. You can see some of his skills in the video below.
From the time she came onstage, Sharon Jones owned it, and all of us. She held that ground, pleading, demanding, proclaiming, and dancing up a hell of a storm for nearly two hours. I’ve posted a photo of the setlist (signed post-show by Sharon!) here. Highlights included “Without A Heart,” “Mama Don’t Like My Man,” and “100 Days, 100 Nights.” When you’re a musician playing behind a force of nature like Sharon Jones, your focus has to be intense, and the Dap-Kings proved more than up to the task. The band, which includes two drummers, and a full horn section, has clearly been honing their chops out on the road, and they have become a majestic soul orchestra. With the great performer they have out in front, it’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable show. When Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings arrive in your town, and eventually they will, do yourself a favor and go out and feel the power of great soul music.
The following video isn’t from the show I saw at the Met, but it is from a Sharon Jones show I saw at another great R.I. venue. Here are Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings at the 2010 Newport Folk Festival; as you might imagine, they killed it there too.
(Sharon Jones photo by Nicole Vanasse)