St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Lincoln Theatre Street Stage, Raleigh
Saturday, June 6, 2015
A half-dozen songs into an explosive 90-minute set outside Raleigh’s Lincoln Theatre, St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ force-of-nature frontman, Paul Janeway, introduced “Shake,” the group’s first cover of the night: “We’re gonna do a Sam Cooke song, Otis Redding-style, for you,” he proclaimed, acknowledging the pair of icons to which he is perhaps most often linked.
Those comparisons are hardly fair, as Cooke and Redding were once-in-a-lifetime voices, and Janeway lacks the former’s smooth delivery and the latter’s raw power. Still, suggesting more contemporary company for Janeway and his powerhouse band does an equal disservice to their seemingly unrivaled revivalism of classic Southern soul, evidenced by their onstage punch.
As unlikely of a soul singer as may have ever existed, Janeway strutted on stage Saturday night, drink in hand, to a sweltering instrumental vamp just as the sun set over the city. For those that hadn’t yet witnessed Janeway’s sainthood, he was a striking sight: Looking every bit the former accounting student in rimmed spectacles and gray suit, Janeway sported a partially unbuttoned shirt, matched by a red pocket square that he snatched from his breast pocket and waved around as he shimmied and sashayed. Even more striking, of course, was his voice, which caused a few double takes from non-believers. Janeway captivated, from the moment he unleashed the drawn-out opening line of the R&B slowburner “Don’t Mean A Thing” to his ad-libbed “Good God!” exclamation on the encore-closing anthem “Call Me.” The band roared through almost all of their 2014 debut, Half the City.
Thanks to a punchy mix that translated each kick of Andrew Lee’s bass drum into a chest thump, Janeway’s band received its share of attention, too. Like some fantasy combination of the Stax Revue and Muscle Shoals studio outfit The Swampers, the seven-piece swung and added an apt amount of drama to slow jams. Guitarist Browan Lollar’s meaty riffs made the Broken Bones’ take on Tom Waits’ “Make It Rain” a swaggering rock number, while Al Gamble’s organ and the trio of horns soared in a slinky version of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.”
But it’s hard to keep the spotlight off a showman like Janeway for long. His gyrations and antics seemed to take some cues from James Brown, as when he fell to his knees at the front of the stage amidst the climax of “Broken Bones & Pocket Change,” pulled the boutonniere from his right lapel and pounded the bloom with his fist. Before launching into the gospel-tinged original “It’s Midnight,” the former church singer asked for—and received—several raucous shouts of “Amen!” from the Cabarrus Street congregation.
On stage at least, St. Paul & The Broken Bones are the truth.