Any festival attendee will know the pain of having to choose between two different artists who are playing at the same time. Saturday at Supercrawl, the toss up was between hi-fi noise wizards HEALTH, and new-soul diva/goddess Sharon Jones. No offense to the Los Angeles quartet, but about 20 minutes into Jones’ performance,there was a very clear answer as to where you needed to be.
Initially, the band started up without her, warming the crowd up before Jones took to the stage. Considering the new documentary on her battle with cancer -Miss Sharon Jones- was showing at the Toronto International Film Festival, Jones had much to celebrate. Coming out in a red pantsuit with hair cut short, she takes control of the stage like it’s home. Though this may sound a bit grandiose, there is something undeniably awe-inspiring about watching someone who’s had so many cards stacked against them perform with an unrelenting passion. Her battle with cancer aside, there was a time when Jones was told she was “too fat, too black, and too short” to be a star. Not one to be hard-hearted, Jones went so far as to take the time to sing “Happy Birthday” to one of the festival organizers.
There was a great amount of depth to the set when Jones told the audience that she was experiencing a recurrence of cancer, and that she had recently started her chemotherapy. “My hands feel like pins and needles right now! But I gotta play through the pain.” she said in between songs. She even commented “That’s why I got my hair cut short, because it’s gonna fall out again.” There was a great amount of symbolism in her valiant performance of “Get Up and Get Out”, which may sound like a classic kiss-off song, but details her first battle with cancer. “This is me” she said, before the kicking into what would be high point of the set, “I gotta tell the cancer to get up, and get out!”
Though elements of the show may seem morbid, Jone’s performance was anything but. Dancing, singing, and working the crowd seemed to come naturally to her. I remember seeing Spoon perform at SuperCrawl last year and found myself watching an audience give a take-it-or-leave-it response to their brand of hipster pop-rock. In this case, the crowd’s energy was palpable; a 50-year-old man in an anarchy hoodie with neck tattoos (not a totally unknown site in Hamilton) was grooving along with the rest of the crowd. Jones eventually came back for a very welcome encore, a person who has fought every battle there is, and isn’t done yet It was hard to imagine any other artist who could have done a better job closing the Saturday night.
Review by Graham Caldwell