Three types of fans filled the Big Room at The Chop Shop for the near-sellout St. Paul & The Broken Bones concert on Friday night –those that couldn’t wipe the grins off their faces, those that couldn’t get their grind on fast enough with the nearest (surprisingly receptive) warm body, and those that couldn’t snap themselves out of, what could only be described as, a hypnotic trance — eyes wide, head tilted up, body swaying. All three types of people were having nothing short of a religious experience — which would make sense considering St. Paul’s charismatic lead singer, Paul Janeway , promised to “take us to church”.
A former preacher, Janeway delivered on that promise– adding the Queen City to St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ fast growing and dedicated congregation. They are a secular band with a big tent revival soul— and sinners, saints, and everyone in between are invited to the party. With their spring and summer filled with sold out shows and appearances at famous festivals, including Bonnaroo—St. Paul just may be the second coming of southern soul.
Much has been written about Janeway– and his shock and awe wail of a voice. He personifies the old adage “never judge a book by its cover”. He looks like the guy next door—but he sings like the guy who is ready to burn down the whole damn neighborhood. His is a voice ripped, kicking and screaming, from a different era. If you closed your eyes during the show you might have found yourself transported to some gin-soaked back-room club circa 1963 Birmingham, Alabama. But who the hell would want to close their eyes– because Janeway’s stage performance is as much, if not more, of a reason the crowd grinned, spinned, and grinded their way into a frenzy during the band’s climatic ode to lost love and loose change, “Broken Bones and Pocket Change”, off their debut full-length album Half the City.
Janeway moves as if he is possessed– and is surprisingly nimble with an arsenal of ass-shaking dance moves that would shame the most fleet-footed hoofer. Imagine a grownup Ralphie “You”ll Shoot Your Eye Out” Parker dancing like James Brown at one of Jay Gatsby’s famous West Egg parties. Throughout the show he swabbed sweat from his brow with a black towel as his voice wrung every single drop of gospel-soul from each syllable, each word, each song. By the time they played their frenetic throwback to telephones and missed opportunities, “Call Me”, even the poor microphone appeared to be panting and pulsating right along with the crowd.
It is hard to ignore the men behind the man– this was clear from the beginning of the show when the sextet, dressed in their Sunday best, lit the fire beneath the crowd with a swirling horn heavy, guitar-driven instrumental sans Janeway– it was like being at a legendary party where the host may or may not show up—and the crowd would have been content to nod along and kernodle with a neighbor all night long even if Janeway never made his appearance. This is testament to the Broken Bones’ talent. They are a tight team of musicians– in this together– as they hoist their star player on their seasoned shoulders, pushing Janeway to sing harder to keep up with their raucous blend of soul, blues, gospel, and rock. It is a sound that belongs solely to them– setting them apart from any other bands out there– while simultaneously connecting them to the past.
By the time the grinners, the grinders, and the spellbound stumbled out of the Chop Shop– and by the time St. Paul & The Broken Bones had loaded their gear into the van, ready to spread their neo-soul gospel to the rest of the world, there was no doubt that a new savior had been in town.