Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings / Ivan Milev Band
Satellite Ballroom; Charlottesville, VA

Tonight: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings with the Ivan Milev Band. Sold Out! said the slate signboard outside Charlottesville, Virginia’s Satellite Ballroom. As I leaned against a brick wall and waited for a friend, people were milling about on the sidewalk, some talking on their cell phones (“Dude, the show’s sold out and James didn’t buy tickets beforehand”) while others looked expectantly at fellow loiterers, hoping that someone would step up and say “Need an extra ticket?”

Sharon and the boys aren’t doing too badly. In fact, they’re batting a thousand so far on this latest East Coast jaunt, having sold out D.C.’s Black Cat the previous night and heading toward a third straight maxed-out crowd at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse the night after. The combination of tireless touring, knock-out performances, the top-notch 100 Days, 100 Nights and a little umph of exposure from the Dap-Kings’ work with Amy Winehouse has clearly coalesced into a successful formula.

When the venue’s doors opened, the room quickly filled with a varied crowd that included a few scrappy teenagers, your typical twenty-somethings, middle-aged record collector types, and a good amount of older folks who probably experienced the original soul and funk heyday.

Grooving had to wait, though, as the Ivan Milev Band took the stage first. Comprised of Milev, an astoundingly dexterous accordion player, and Entcho Todorov, an equally skilled violinist, the duo tore through a Balkan-hopping set of Eastern European tunes, juggling notes, tempos and time signatures as in a game of hot potato. Their songs varied from tense, raga-like pulses to frenzied, dueling solos that came off like Arthur Russell played at tape-melting speed. Letting Todorov do the talking in between tunes, Milev curled his increasingly sweaty brow and channeled all of his manic energy through his keys and buttons.

Milev and Todorov proved themselves the real deal of Eastern European virtuosity, just as Sharon Jones and her band have filled that role for modern soul and funk. The Dap-Kings emerged to plentiful cheers and warmed up the audience with a few instrumentals before guitarist Binky Griptite introduced the band and eventually Jones herself, who skipped to center stage in a black dress.

The soul queen wrapped the audience around her finger from the start, confidently leading them with her faultless inflections and occasionally pulling a lucky fan on stage to serve as a lyrical object during numbers such as “How Do I Let A Good Man Down” and “Be Easy.” Screams and more gyrations accompanied the opening measures of 100 Days, 100 Nights’ title track, and though some of the slower songs tapped the breaks on the evening’s momentum, even the timid vinyl geeks were starting to move their hips by the end of the night.

A by-the-book encore was already in the bag, given the group’s classic showmanship and the audience’s enthusiasm. After returning to bestow a few more nuggets on their loyal subjects, the Kings and Queen thanked the audience and sent them toward the door and the merch table, where one could pick up an album or a 45, one of the retro staples of the band’s Daptone imprint.

Going the “traditional” route can easily evoke a yawn and a “been there, seen that” response, especially with the cult following of vintage soul, but Jones and the Dap-Kings blew that notion out of the water from the horn section’s first brassy pop to the last wail of the front woman’s dazzling voice. Dig through the record bins for as many ’60s rarities as you want; you still won’t come close to the experience of seeing Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings conquer a stage.

[Photo: Laura O’Neill]

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