Sometimes you cut a performer some slack — like when 97-year-old blues pianist Pinetop Perkins unknowingly repeats a song he’d played earlier or when 75-year-old Glen Campbell shows up suffering from Alzheimer’s or when then-15-year-old Justin Bieber, God bless him in his innocence then, tries to dance with his foot in a walking cast.
There was no need to cut the 57-year-old Sharon Jones any slack Wednesday night, even though she took the stage at the State Theatre just three months after her last chemotherapy session for pancreatic cancer. The 5-foot fireball was an unstoppable soul machine. Her voice was as rangy and potent as ever, and she was so hyperactive that she must have been moving in double time — or so her shimmering sequined dress made it seem.
She was so fired up on the opener “Stranger to My Happiness” that, in the spirit of Little Richard, she ended it with a “Wow! Ooh! Ah! Whew!”
The near-capacity crowd expressed “Amen” with its thunderous applause.
For the next 70 minutes or so, Jones never really let up — unless you consider two slow-dance ballads down time.
If James Brown was known as the hardest-working man in show business, then Jones — who like Brown hails from Augusta, Ga. — is the toughest woman in soul business. There was determination in the lyrics of her songs, in her patter and in every reaffirming shake, shimmey and strut. She was fiery, feisty and funky — and less the hammy showwoman than she was at previous triumphant Twin Cities performances at First Avenue, the State Fair and Rock the Garden.
Backed by the terrific Brooklyn band known as the Dap-Kings, Jones offered a brand of soul that’s fresh but has plenty of vintage echoes and references. Bandleader/chief songwriter/bassist Bosco Mann is a student of 1960s and ’70s soul music. He takes elements of Motown, Stax, Muscle Shoals, Philadelphia International, boardwalk soul, Hi Records and such stars as James Brown, Chaka Khan and Earth, Wind & Fire, throws them into a blender with a special Daptone sauce (Daptone is their record label) and comes up with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.
The Dap-Kings and the Dapettes, two backup singers, opened the show, and they also played the first encore, “Funky Broadway,” with about 30 Minnesota dancers partying onstage by invitation. Jones seemed so spent after the main-set closer, the foot-stomping, liberating “100 Days, 100 Nights,” that she needed a breather.
But after the first encore number without her, the one-woman cyclone returned for the new “Get Up and Get Out,” which she’d recorded before the cancer bout that canceled last year’s tour and delayed the release of the new album, “Give the People What They Want,” by five months. Saying she was taking a cue from Tina Turner, Jones reworked what sounded on the record like a girl-group piece into a full-blown, kick-the-cancer-out, 10-minute church-revival sendup, complete with shouting, testifying and kicking off her high heels for some praise dancing in overdrive.
For some fans at the State, it might have felt like going to church without mentioning the Lord every few phrases. But this nearly two hours of soul music could just as easily have been the magical performance of a medicine woman. Jones’ wondrous efforts were testament that music can heal, restore and uplift. Whatever ails you, a concert by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings is the prescription.