A Night of Giant-Sized Soul at The Bowery Ballroom

March 27th, 2014

St. Paul and the Broken Bones


Last night at The Bowery Ballroom a giant-sized cover of St. Paul & the Broken Bones’ new album, Half the City, hung behind the six-piece band as they performed. Plenty of other groups have gone with this decorating scheme before, but when these guys do, it’s like a proclamation: this music, this band and, most specifically, this frontman, Paul Janeway, are giant-sized, larger than life. Like other singers, Janeway sings, “Yeah,” but when he does it, he sings, “Yeaaaaaaaah” from somewhere deep within—a soulful growl with its own gravitational field, pulling whoops and whistles from the sold-out crowd due purely to the laws of nature. Like other frontmen, Janeway declared, “We’re gonna have a good time tonight,” but this wasn’t just wishful thinking or rock and roll cliché. No, he said it because it was as true as the sun rising in the East. To witness Janeway singing, howling and dancing demonstratively across the stage was to watch someone doing exactly what he was born to do. And what a sight it is.

Hailing from Birmingham, Ala., Janeway and the excellent Broken Bones—horns, guitar, organ, bass, drums—play an old-fashioned soul revue with a Southern blues-rock grit. As these shows must, things started with the band warming up, vamping on an instrumental groove before Janeway bounded onstage. The set whirled through the new album with sweaty, high-octane energy. The up-tempo songs, like the title track, were great, the band laying down dance riffs while Janeway channeled every great soul singer you can think of, from JB to Aretha to Otis and beyond, the sound swallowing the room completely. The slower numbers, like “Broken Bones & Pocket Change,” were even better; Janeway’s passionate yowl of a voice joined by the Broken Bones to build and build and finally crest, sweeping away the audience in the process. He joked that because they only had 40 minutes of original material they had to play some covers. (Take note, other bands with only 40 minutes of material!)

The mid-set take on Sam Cooke’s “Shake” was a brass-heavy revelation. But it was the two-song encore that pushed the show over the top, beginnng with a uniquely soulful take on Wings’ “Let Me Roll It,” featuring the best and longest guitar solo of the night. Occasionally you spend a show thinking, “Man, he’d really kill some Otis Redding,” only to then be treated to a “hell yeah!” show-closing take on Redding’s version of “Try a Little Tenderness.” This was St. Paul and the Broken Bones at their finest, the cover they were born to play as their own. Two false endings built the energy to a manic state, doubling the intensity each time, those 40 minutes of material easily stretching into 80 because when St. Paul is onstage everything is that much bigger, giant-sized, larger than life. —A. Stein