Monday was the summer solstice, which meant daylight would be lingering longer than it would any other day of the year. This is great if you’re trying to squeeze in a round of golf after dinner, but as we arrived at the Showbox SoDo to see The Heavy open for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings in what seemed like broad daylight, it was a bit offsetting. As we were entering the venue, The Heavy were just starting to pluck the deliciously ominous opening notes of “Short Change Hero,” one of my favorite songs off their only album The House That Dirt Built, and the crowd seemed to be thicker in the Sodo’s glassed-off bar area than in front of the stage, with those that were up front still adjusting to the fact that they were at a show when daylight was evident in the windows above the venue’s entrance. The song’s intro wrapped up and The Heavy’s dynamic front man Kelvin Swaby made his way onto the stage and gave us a “Good evening, Seattle!” before the song and the set were properly set in motion with an emphatic crack of the snare drum.
Though the band started out a bit lacking in the energy department (understandable considering they had just played a show at the Triple Door for KEXP earlier in the day), they quickly picked it up and ended up playing an amazing show. Their powerful, heavy brand of soulful rock n’ roll sounded bluesy, funky, and even a little reggae at times, with a trumpet and sax on stage complementing their style perfectly. The Heavy live, however, is all about leading man Kelvin Swaby, whose off-the-charts enthusiasm and stage presence went along well with a voice that was nothing short of mind-blowing and needs to be seen live to truly appreciate. He is a kind of front man you don’t see very often, continuously interacting with the audience as if the band’s life on stage was utterly dependent on the crowd’s reciprocation of his attitude and energy. He had several little ploys to introduce songs, rile the audience up, and playfully pull them along through the performance, making sure everyone’s spirits stayed high and attention was undivided. With one song to go, the band began playing an unrecognizable beat as Swaby worked the crowd and asked repeatedly if they still liked him, eventually asking “Well how you like us now!” as the band switched gears and burst into their single “How You Like Me Now” to close out the set. It goes without saying that The Heavy succeeded in wrestling the audience out of their late evening daze and getting the juices flowing for Sharon Jones.
Like The Heavy, a Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ performance goes beyond merely playing songs one after the other until the night is over. There are theatrics, monologues between songs, elaborate introductions, and, as is usually the case with Sharon Jones shows, audience members are frequently brought up on stage to dance and sing along. The band, which consisted of two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, a bongo player, a trumpet, alto and baritone saxes, and two backup singers, warmed up with a quick medley of snippets of everything they had in store for the rest of the night, after which bassist Bosco Mann gave a rousing introduction to Sharon Jones who burst onto the stage in a vibrant multi-colored dress covered in tassels that flew around all night long as she shook, shimmied, and gyrated around the stage.
Sharon Jones and Co. played an explosive set consisting of a good deal of songs off their latest release, I Learned the Hard Way. The band was in sync, Sharon Jones was out of control, and the entire venue was loving it. Sharon Jones hoisted members in the front of the audience up on stage throughout the course of the night, which was a success most of the time, but sometimes was more awkward than anything. A few of the guys she brought up on stage to serenade did nothing but sway around nervously with an embarrassed smile on their face, but at one point she called six or seven women up on stage and the eclectic mix of personalities all were getting down appropriately and gelled into a kind of funky chorus line as Sharon Jones went wild in front of them.
The unequivocal highlight of the show was Sharon Jones and her irrepressible, never-ending energy, which along with the amount of sweat dripping from trumpet-player Dave Guy constituted the two seemingly supernatural phenomena of the night. Her intensity never came close to waning, and, to be honest, the audience wasn’t up to task. The crowd should have been a full-bore, sweat-dripping dance party, and though there were people dancing, it was fairly restrained for all that Sharon Jones was putting out. That would have been the ideal situation, but realistically it would have taken the bartenders slipping something extra in the drinks for anyone to even think about having a chance to keep up with the “dynamite” queen of funk and soul.
The band finished up to a raucous round of applause, and after the stage had been empty for a few minutes Bosco Mann came back out and forcefully emphasized that they show was over before asking if the audience wanted just a little bit more. This resulted in more sustained hollering and applauding which was so loud that Mann couldn’t even ask the crowd to get louder before calling the band back on stage. They played “100 Days, 100 Nights” for the encore and left the stage for good to another round of wild applause. I think everyone was thoroughly satisfied.
As we poured out onto 1st Avenue, it was refreshing to notice that the sky had finally turned black. If a pairing of shows like the ones The Heavy and Sharon Jones had just put on can’t put the dark into the night, I don’t know what can.