Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Hard Way

June 28, 2010

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings on stage at the Wiltern
Photo: mine 2010

What better way to end a month full of Wagner than with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. There is no real connection here and I’m not trying to imply one. Sometimes it’s just best to finish the Beaujolais and walk away if you know what I mean. I last saw SJDK, as their backdrop proclaims them on their current tour, at the Hollywood Bowl in 2008 as the second act on a triple bill of “world music.” At the time I was blown away and mostly desired to hear a more substantial set from this ensemble in a more hospitable venue. Well, my wish was granted this weekend at the Wiltern Theater when Ms. Jones and her formidable fellow musicians appeared on their current West Coast tour in support of their latest recording I Learned the Hard Way. It’s a relatively more musically adventurous collection of songs for the group, but all of the material blended nicely on Saturday.

Which is no surprise, considering how incredibly tight this ensemble of 15 or so is, including four strings, three horns, and back-up singers. The show puts Jones front and center in a not at all tongue-in-cheek homage to a 1960s Soul revue à la James Brown. The outfits, mannerism, and consummate musicianship are all there. Even a sort of retro party atmosphere is maintained as Ms. Jones invited various men and women to climb up onto the stage during the performance to dance or interact with her. Some in the audience got a little carried away, clambering over the breech without an invitation, which though inappropriate lent a sort of bygone exuberance as well. Ms. Jones arrives on stage with hyperbolic fanfare that she soon delivers on with an immense amount of energy and feeling. All of this was maintained without a hitch in a nearly marathon two and a half hour show that never flagged and covered everything you could possibly want to hear, including their calling card rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” which is no less powerful now after having accompanied the opening credits to Reitman’s Up in the Air. What I love most about SJDK besides their superb musicianship is the fact that they're selling something completely unrelated to much of what is currently marketed as popular music, and they don't seem to care. Yet this is much, much more than nostalgia. It's passionate, engaging music that I will dearly miss until they come around again.


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