It takes a brave soul to follow Sharon Jones onstage. The petite former corrections officer is a soul dynamo who can channel Aretha’s finesse, Marva Whitney’s growl and Tina Turner’s dance moves. Backed by the 10-piece Dap-Kings, Jones is the distillation of the best of 1960s Southern soul.
After a typically powerful 75-minute set Thursday night at Crossroads KC, Jones abdicated to Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. Over the next 95 minutes, Shorty and his five-piece band displayed a different side of soul music.
Jones’ set was a throwback to a Motown or Stax revue, tightly choreographed and rehearsed. Orleans Avenue was bred on loose Crescent City jams and sounded like a scaled-down Funkadelic mixed with a second line parade. Despite their different approaches, James Brown provided common ground. Jones and the Dap-Kings nailed the spirit of Brown’s landmark first “Live at the Apollo” album, while Shorty played a medley of Brown’s later funk numbers.
Regardless of who was onstage, fans never had a reason to stop dancing. Bouncing horn sections carried the night. During one extended guitar solo, Shorty and his pair of sax men huddled in a circle and jumped, coaxing the crowd to do likewise.
Orleans Avenue functioned like a sonic ad for Shorty’s native New Orleans. When not evoking Frenchman’s Street with his trombone solos, Shorty would shout about his hometown’s attractions like Tipitina’s, the Ninth Ward and Treme. The city’s songwriters also got props. A long cover of the Meters’ “Ain’t No Use” veered from a blistering hard rock guitar solo to a soulful baritone sax solo. Shorty got a Big Easy twofer when he worked Mystikal quotes into a cover of Ernie K. Doe’s “Here Come the Girls.”
Most of Shorty’s set alternated between vocal numbers and instrumentals. Each song provided ample room for solos and improvisation. Although the band performed several originals, its strength was in its covers. Lenny Kravitz’ “Sistamamalover” provided another high point.
The Dap-Kings revealed their secret weapon early in the night when backing singers Saun and Starr took center stage for three songs before Jones emerged. The two women have been singing with Jones since the 1990s and their chemistry was evident on a quiet cover of Gladys Knight’s “Every Beat of My Heart” and the upbeat “Making Up and Breaking Up.”
Leading into her final number, “Get Up and Get Out,” Jones talked about the cancer she has been battling since 2013. She said the title was what her body was continually saying to the disease. After starting the song pretending to be Tina Turner and starting off nice and slow, Jones moved into gospel mode, talking about how after defeating one round of tumors, more would appear.
If medical treatment wouldn’t work, Jones said, she would shout them out. Dancing frantically across the stage, Jones unleashed yawps that produced goosebumps. Medical researchers should follow Jones’ self-prescribed treatment. If anyone can pull it off, she can.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings set list
Instrumental intro; Hot Shot (sung by Saun and Starr); Big Wheel (Saun and Starr); In the Night (Saun and Starr); Retreat; Road of Brokenhearted Men (Bobby Blue Bland cover); For Your Call; Long Time, Wrong Time; Keep on Looking; Every Beat of My Heart (Gladys Knight cover); Natural Born Lover; New Shoes; Making Up and Breaking Up; He Said I Can; These Tears; Stranger to My Happiness; She Ain’t a Child No More; Let the Knock; Get Up and Get Out