What a voice. A true, world-class talent. Paul Janeway, frontman and lead singer of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, absolutely blew the Rickshaw down on Thursday night. Playing to a sold-out crowd in support of their debut record, Half the City (Single Lock Records, 2014), the Birmingham boys delivered a 90-minute set worth writing about.
The Broken Bones, with a sound deeply rooted in Southern gospel and funk, brought us to church with Paul as the preacher. Groomed to be a minister as a young boy, Janeway’s abilities to rile up a crowd come as no surprise. Each song was broken up by banter with the crowd, a treat for anyone accustomed to artists blowing through a set without a word to acknowledge those in attendance. The atmosphere was loose – cozy, even.
The buzz surrounding this band is more than deserved. Fresh off of a nationally televised performance on David Letterman, SP&BB are carving themselves a nice corner in the neo-soul revival (look through Daptone Records’ catalogue for examples). Music reminiscent of the legendary Muscle Shoals studio back in the 60s. Oldies such as Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin can all be heard in this band’s sound. Fans spanning three generations could be seen at the Rickshaw on Thursday: those who remember fondly the glory days of soul, those who grew up listening to their parents’ records and us who are falling in love with it now. The bottom line is, St. Paul and the Broken Bones are creating music that crosses all scopes of fans not based on a certain genre but on talent alone.
The Broken Bones opened the set with an extended funk jam – a breakdown of horns, rhythm, and blues. The light shone down on an empty mic. The stage was masked in a shade of blue. Anticipation rose as Janeway’s entrance neared. He emerged in a dark suit paired with golden shoes. And as soon as he opened his mouth, we were all reminded why this band’s first ever show in Vancouver had been sold out for weeks.
Starting with “Don’t Mean a Thing”, SP&BB played a longer than normal set. With only one LP worth of material, the band had to fill in the blanks with some covers. Not a problem. Janeway could have been singing the Yellow Pages to a standing ovation. The covers were some of the most entertaining parts anyway, the most interesting being their interpretation of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees”. Sprinkled in were covers of Sam Cooke’s “Shake”, Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness”, and an endless supply of jittery, awkward yet charming dance moves by Janeway. Hit single “Call Me” received a raucous response during the band’s four song encore as well.
The talent displayed onstage by St. Paul and the Broken Bones was unmatched by any group I have seen in a long time. Their music is simultaneously modern and nostalgic. A contemporary classic in the flesh. Janeway’s voice, the best I’ve heard live by leaps and bounds, is the initial attraction to the music, but soon does one realize that the Broken Bones are as equally talented as their gospel-influenced frontman. They were as “tight” as possible, and groovy to boot. Appealing to young and old, these Alabamians have endless potential. Neo-soul at its finest. I’ll be bold in predicting Thursday night’s set as an early frontrunner for Best of 2015.