“We call this the greatest hits part of the show, even though we only have two albums,” stated a sweaty Paul Janeway halfway through his sold out show on September 15th at Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix. The Paul of St. Paul and The Broken Bones has the pipes to make any song a wower, so essentially one can count any song off those two albums a hit. And the hits were delivered at Crescent from the stage in a couple forms, as Janeway’s vocal acrobatics hit listeners in all the right spots. Perhaps it’s from Janeway’s skills as a preacher in his younger days where he mustered a bit of spelling binding, but jaws were dropped when Janeway got on bended knee during the trembling ballad “Grass is Greener.”
Having released their second album Sea of Noise just days earlier and like fellow Dixians Alabama Shakes, have gone from a rootsy debut effort to a progressive sophomore release, were out to prove they are more than a one-trick pony. When the band starting dropping the rumbling bass line to Radiohead’s “The National Anthem,” four songs in, even running through the indie free jazz composition’s first verse, one can tell there were new musical leanings for the band. Also to ad edge to the surface, Janeway was now sporting scruffy facial hair, far from the “gawky” clean choir boy façade of prior years.
Musically everything was on point over the course of their 90 minute set, but presentation wise, something was missing for a band that is now playing some of the most esteemed venues in the U.S. including two shows at Nashville’s Ryman in February. Janeway donning an animal print suit and rhinestone shoes, has the ammunition but needs to work on his banter and moves, to more boldly awaken the crowd for what they are about to witness. Taking a cue from some Springsteen videos might do the trick, as well as getting his groove on to a few more James Brown records on the tour bus.
The seven piece band, while all seasoned musicians are a choreographer away from being a band that can slay routinely. Trumpet, sax, trombone, keys, bass guitar, drums were all there providing the rhythms and beats. but somehow we were left wondering: just really who are The Broken Bones? With a voice like St. Janeway, a bigger bolder vision of what at St. Paul and the Broken Bones show can really become is never off one’s mind; it’s like off-roading a Rolls Royce- let the machine ride on the most elegant stage possible.
When Janeway sings he has the power to rapture the listener in the moment, yearning for days of old in the big band format. While he does over-extend himself vocally often, very few singers can actually back up the voice theatrics like Paul. From the triumphant “Broken Bones & Pocket Change” to the R & B flavors of “Flow with It (You Got Me Feeling Like) – the crowd was with him during and were buying his vinyl after – to take Paul home in their own way. At their young age and talent, St. Paul and The Broken Bones will surely be around for awhile, so see ’em while you can, as this era certainly bestows its share of peak moments.