Retro-soul revivalists St. Paul & the Broken Bones were originally scheduled to perform at Bristol’s Trinity Centre on the Southwest portion of their current U.K tour until an explosive show on Later with Jools Holland saw the band bumped up to the more elegant surroundings that are Colston Hall. A wise move certainly, considering the reception they received from the group at the end of a truly earthshaking set would have knocked the roof off a more shabby-looking venue!
The group USP apart from playing classic soul music, with the bravado to gladden the most cynical of hearts, comes in the form of the imposing frontman Paul Janeway, a soul shouter who has the vocal skills to beat all of his competition in the newly re-emerging R&B circuit. Couple it with St Paul’s mania for indulging himself in exuberant bursts of onstage theatricality that would make James Brown to shame and you’re in the presence of an utterly charismatic, soul-singing and soulful shaman.
With only two albums including the brutal album Half the City (2014) and the more sombre follow-up Sea of Noise (2016) to their MT4 Indicators credit The Alabamian band is definitely a work in progress. There is evidence aplenty, though, that St. Paul & The Broken Bones are much more than the proverbial one-trick pony; Sea of Noise traded in its predecessors’ (over) exuberant wham-bam-thank-you-mam instincts, for a rather more seductive, string-based, and occasionally funky approach to stirring our collective souls.
Janeway’s amazing journey to the cliff-edge of pop stardom is one worth noting as a white child (not that you’d be able to tell it from THAT voice It’s a fact! ) and a native of rural Alabama born into a Christian fundamentalist family, thought just of being a Pentecostal preacher until the time he reached his teens, he chose to leave his calling to pursue a career in accounting as well as the indulgence of creating the type of secular music that was previously forbidden within the Janeway home.
Janeway might be eager to emphasize that the actor has turned his back on all that “old-time” religion (within 30 seconds of stepping onto the stage this evening, he figuratively defrocked himself, extravagantly casting off his religious robes in order to reveal his dazzlingly patterned jacket underneath) However, a childhood that was spent in the bosom of the Mother Church is deeply enshrined in his very sexy stage show – starting with the superficially scripted “good god almighty” to the ad-libbed “have mercy” (or, maybe it’s the other way around) and the “have mercy” he utilizes to reinforce the emotions of the lyric. The Sundays that he spent watching hellfire preachers raising canes from the pulpit are evidently leaving their marks too. Janeway always raises his hands in mock prayer as he gazes toward the heavens as he calls that “congregation” to dance “their asses off”. Well, it beats passing the collection plate around!
The spectacularly well-rehearsed and watertight band , co-founded by Jesse Phillips (bass), Al Gamble (keys), Browan Lollar (guitar) Jason Mingledorff (saxophone), Chad Fisher (trombone), Allen Branstetter (trumpet) and Andrew Lee (drums), opened the 90-minute set with the jolly “Flow with it”, an instrumental that showcases Janeway’s glacially cool , cool falsetto to stunning effect. Some of the highlights from the beginning were the gender-defying deep soul ballad “I’ll Be Your Woman” as well as the exuberant “Brain Matter”, which was a sight to see Janeway wring every inch of desperate soul from the lyrics:
“That’s my dad with the gun / shooting someone else’s son’.
The set truly reached the heights, though, with a stunning rendition of the funky “Midnight on the Earth” as well as a triumphant rendition to Van Morrison’s “I’ve Been Working”. Anyone who’s listened to Van or the caledonian Orchestra’s blistering live version of the track on the previous It’s Too Late to Quit Now release will be aware of how high the bar had been set.
As if the night couldn’t get any better, the band burst into the song that gave the song its title “Broken Bones and Pocket Change”. Janeway is known for his ability to warn fans to not go to the bathroom throughout the track, however unfortunately, there was no such warning last night, so some unfortunate fans missed out on a fantastically brutal five minutes of Janeway in a state of mock despair, collapsing theatrically to his knees before shamelessly rolling around the floor and disappearing beneath the drum kit, only to recoming back only to kiss and then throw his gold winkle pickers across the stage. The song (if anyone was actually paying attention at the moment) closes with an angry Janeway throwing his body around of the floor, feigning displeasure.
It was a memorable set, although it wasn’t exactly show-stopping as the band had unfinished businessleft, concluding their performance with”Is it Me,” the Wilson Pickett homage “Call Me” and the heavy-duty gospel wail that is “Sanctify”. The encore was four songs long and included an unrefined and sloppy cover of the Otis Redding classic “Shake” (in their early gigs the band covered the entire album of Otis Blue to compensate for an absence of original material) and a frankly real “Is It Me” ” The song lays open Janeway’s recurring theological confusion:
“Jesus is encased in my TV screen and giving all the answers, but never ever Heaven is too far away and I’m struggling to find peace’
The set concludes with a wild, grandstanding version of “Burning Rome” complete with an enchanting vocal that prompted gasps and spontaneous applause, not the first time, from the audience who were astonished.