TVD Live: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at the Lincoln Theatre, 2/10

It is impossible to talk about Sharon Jones these days without also talking about cancer. Her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in June of last year led to months of chemotherapy and recovery, as well as the postponement of her newest album with the Dap-Kings, January’s Give the People What They Want. Her show at the Lincoln Theatre on Monday came only days after she played her first show in nearly a year in her hometown of New York City. But despite the ordeal of the last year, Jones has come back in what can only be described as a triumph of strength, love, and joy.

On Monday, the Dap-Kings warmed up the audience before Jones appeared on stage, building the excitement and giving the Dapettes, backup singers Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan, a chance in the front for a few songs. But the Dap-Kings and the audience had no illusions about the true star of the night.

Jones appeared on stage in a bright floral dress, metallic silver shoes, and the trademark smile and dance moves that her fans have come to love and expect. Though chemotherapy caused the loss of her beloved braids, Jones proudly showed the audience the “peach fuzz” growing back on her nearly-bald head.

While Give the People was completed before her diagnosis, the songs on the album have become anthems of comeback and perseverance. And while the show also included hits from Jones’ previous four albums, the night was really a devotion to the 10 tracks off of Give the People. The newest album isn’t a departure from the band’s previous sound; together, the discography is a renewal and an extension of the best of the late 1960s’ soul and funk music. With a coherent sound and more than a few standout tracks, Give the People will ensure her fans’ continued adoration.

The set kicked off with “Stranger to My Happiness,” the second track off of Give the People. Jones could have been forgiven for playing a shorter show, or maybe dancing a bit less, but it was clear that she missed the stage, she missed the fans, and cancer be damned. Jones came on, grabbed the microphone, and almost immediately moved the mic stand to the back of the stage. It was a minor move that sent a major message: we are here to dance. Despite the plush seats of Lincoln Theatre, there will be no sitting tonight.

At the close of the first song, she told the audience about her cancer: “It beat me down but it didn’t get me down…I knew my fans were there for me.” On “Better Things to Do,” she pulled a young man onto the stage, dancing and hip-bumping back and forth with him as she belted out the lyrics. Over an hour into the set, she hit one of her most impressive and sustained notes to close out “100 Days, 100 Nights,” paused for a few seconds for applause, and then dived straight into “When I Come Home.” Her stamina seemed endless.

One of the most memorable moments of the night came just over halfway through the set, on “Get Up and Get Out” off of Give the People. The Dap-Kings started things slow as Jones channeled Tina Turner, before quickly building. Jones danced from one end of the stage to the other and back, again and again, her silver shoes kicked off to the side. The lyrics were poignantly relevant and Jones did not shy away, channeling them into an empowering shout of, “I told my sickness get out, I told my cancer get out!” as the audience cheered.

For over a decade, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings have released albums that draw a diverse set of fans: those who remember the original soul artists of the 1960s, those who don’t know or don’t care about the music’s origins, and many of us in between. Jones has become known for her charisma, nonstop energy, and phenomenally powerful voice.

But there is new meaning in the songs and the performances. Jones doesn’t shy away from her experience with cancer, and it’s true that the topic can’t be avoided when writing about her today. Even more, however, it’s impossible to avoid talking about what Jones’ recovery looks like—the power of her performance, her ability to embrace her changed viewpoint, and her openness about the elements that remain in her struggle.

Others writers have written about the bias that come with reviewing Sharon Jones this early in her come back. I can’t deny that I share in that bias—but so did the fans at Lincoln Theatre this week. She is a unique performer today, with a band that is with her every step of the way. I can only hope to see her on many more tours to come.

Opening for Jones and the Dap-Kings was singer-songwriter Valerie June. June’s self-described “Tennessee moonshine roots music” initially seemed to be an unusual choice for an opener. The set started quietly, with sparse instrumentals highlighting June’s unique voice. June and her guitar were joined on stage by a drummer and upright bassist. On the second song, she traded her guitar for a tiny banjolele, cajoling it into tune before launching into her roots-infused “Somebody to Love.”

As her guitar came back and the set ramped up, the upright bass was traded in for electric, and her soaring voice filled the theater. Clocking in at only 20 minutes, we only received a taste of this eclectic, Memphis-based artist. But by the end, the audience was cheering and at least a couple of people were dancing in the aisles, an unusual site for an opener on a Monday night in DC. And her strong vocals and country bluegrass sound turned out to be a perfect segue to the Jones and the Dap-Kings.

VALERIE JUNE

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