|Sharon Jones, a talented soul singer, had the audience's attention the whole night. (Dulce Pinzon)|
CAMBRIDGE - "I been looking at you all night!" Sharon Jones said, pulling a college-age guy in an Izod shirt onto the stage with her at the Middle East Downstairs Friday night. The young man, who said his name was Brendan, was a little sheepish, but he was a sport. Jones checked his face for stubble, asked if he had a girlfriend ("She ain't here, right?"), then serenaded him with a "lesson" on how to treat said girlfriend right: the simmering "Be Easy."
Brendan was one of nine members of the sold-out crowd who got to share the stage with Jones during a performance that her guitarist, Binky Griptite, announced as "the Daptone Super Soul Revue."
Griptite was a capable bandleader in his own right, leading the excellent Dap-Kings - comprising a typical rock lineup plus a trumpet, tenor sax, baritone sax, and bongos - through a short set of rousing R&B numbers that got the audience dancing, clapping, and shouting before Jones had even appeared. (The Budos Band was scheduled to open but reportedly got stuck in New York and never showed up.)
Once she came onstage, Jones made good on her band's build-up. Jones is a perfectly cool and natural performer whose moves, ad libs, and constant conversation with the audience make her an engaging party host who just happens to be a great soul singer, as well.
Through the heavy groove of "I'm Not Gonna Cry" (released as a 7-inch vinyl single), the funkier "How Do I Let a Good Man Down?" (her "struttin' song"), and a slew of other solid soul tunes like "Let Them Knock," Jones's voice wasn't only as capable as it is on record - it was stronger, thanks to the freedom and energy of a live setting.
The Dap-Kings were essential to that effect. The airtight Brooklyn-based band, which has also played behind Amy Winehouse, allowed Jones to speed things up or slow them down as she saw fit, dropping abruptly to half-speed at her command on the title track of her new record, "100 Days, 100 Nights."
When it came time for an encore, Griptite appropriately had no trouble getting the audience to chant "I want some Sharon Jones" in exchange for her reappearance. Jones then launched into James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and proved that, as the song goes, "it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl."