Review: Daptone Celebrates 20 Years with Spectacular ‘Souled Out’ 2014 Live Performance

Various Artists
The Daptone Super Soul Revue Live at the Apollo
(Daptone)
4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Brooklyn, New York’s scrappy Daptone label was riding high in December of 2014. So much so that they brought many of their artists together for a three-night sold-out stand at New York City’s legendary Apollo theatre.

Since soul was, and remains, at the heart of the imprint’s business model, it was a logical venue to showcase their impressive roster. That included headliners Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires, along with a handful of others such as the horn enhanced Budos Band, Afrobeat masters Antibalas and gospel group The Como Mamas. Why this scintillating live show was kept hidden for seven years until its current unveiling to celebrate Daptone’s 20th anniversary is unclear. But that doesn’t make the vibrant two hours any less festive or triumphant.  

Unfortunately, while Daptone is still a working entity, Jones and Bradley have passed, leaving the label without its most commercially successful acts. Naomi Shelton and Cliff Driver, both of the popular gospel singers Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, have also left us. A few posthumous releases from Bradley and Jones have emptied the vaults and even though Daptone has signed new names since losing their marquee stars, no one has yet arrived to fill their space.

The majority of this joyous two-hour compilation of the hottest songs from the three nights is, not surprisingly, dedicated to Bradley and Jones whose sets comprise half the playing time. They both bring the heat in a big way with Bradley tapping into his Otis Redding bluesy soul on a searing “How Long.” Jones is absolutely on fire ramping up the funk on “He Said I Can,” paying tribute to Gladys Knight with a sweet, soulful cover of her hit “Every Beat of My Heart,” and doing her best James Brown on a frantic, sweat-soaked “There Was a Time” (Brown’s version was also recorded at the Apollo in 1967).

But everyone else shows up too. Daptone co-founder Neal Sugarman shines with his Sugarman 3 instrumental outfit, Antibalas charges through their Afrobeat with propulsive intensity, openers Saun & Starr move from backup singers to soulful frontwomen, and Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens take the audience to church for three selections.

It’s a non-stop party and the stunning live mix effectively puts the listener in the middle of the action, reflecting the energy generated on stage. Everyone joins for the rousing closing cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Family Affair,” which puts an exclamation point on the sense of camaraderie amongst these artists connected by their Daptone affiliation as they coalesce with as much pure enthusiasm as you can cram onto tape.

Hopefully, the jubilant lightning in a bottle performance captured here can power the Daptone folks to new highs as they move into their next decades. If they can find even half the talent that fills this spectacular set, they’ll be in good shape to commemorate their next 20 years in 2041.       

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