About halfway through St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ incendiary 85-minute show at Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox Theatre last night, frontman Paul Janeway pointed out that “I can’t believe that just four-and-a-half years ago, I was a bank teller.”
When you see St. Paul it’s hard to believe that the 33-year-old and his tight 7-piece band haven’t been playing 4,000+ seat theaters for at least a decade. This may sound like sacrilege, but the overweight white guy with the nerdy glasses sounds like — and commands the stage like — Otis Redding in his prime. No less an authority than Keith Richards has said something similar.
Janeway introduced the band as a Canadian bassist, a sax player from New Orleans, and a bunch of guys from Alabama towns. These are virtuosos steeped in Southern soul. The full instrumentation: trumpet, sax, trombone and Hammond organ, in addition to the traditional guitar/bass/drums core, allows the band to explore the Stax/Volt sound in all its depth. While their sound is, not unexpectedly, somewhat derivative, no one else I know of is doing this right now, and Janeway has the chops to make it seem fresh and new. On top of that, guitarist Browan Lollar is given the latitude to rock out in ways no one besides Jimi Hendrix was doing in the mid-’60s Stax/Volt heyday.
Beyond the band’s outstanding originals, they make several varied and unlikely cover songs their own. Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” routinely pops up midway through the opening set, followed by Van Morrison’s “I’ve Been Working” a few songs later. You couldn’t come up with two more different songs in their original recordings, yet both fit seamlessly with the Broken Bones’ repertoire. They usually save a final cover for the second to last song of the three-song encore. Last night, we got the bass-heavy Beatles’ deep cut “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Most shows, David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” has filled that slot.
Janeway told the audience that when he was growing up in Birmingham, not a lot of his favorite bands played concerts there, so he often drove the two hours to Atlanta to see shows. He said playing the Fox was a dream come true for him. And for the 4,000 or so fans at last night’s show, it was a sweet dream for us.