Wednesday, September 3, 2014

St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Gorilla Manchester, 2nd September 2014 9/10

Like the sorely missed Civil Wars, St. Paul and the Broken Bones is in that glorious category of acts which explode into life when you see them live. Sometimes, gigs feel like little more than a recreation of an album, but here dancing and acting are key. I was absolutely entranced when I saw this seven piece soul band from Birmingham, Alabama at the Dot to Dot Festival in May, despite their short set. Yet this headline set was even more absorbing thanks to the fuller venue. Last night, as drinkers joined the odd cerebral type, there was no lack of enthusiasm or dancing. In the US, their album Half the City reached number three in the iTunes chart, and they've had significant television exposure. Happily, it appears that recognition on this side of the Atlantic is starting to catch up.

Comparisons with Alabama Shakes are obvious: Half the City was produced by the keyboard player from that band, Ben Tanner, and recorded in Muscle Shoals. Both bands are absolutely scintillating live, whilst a charismatic female front person in Brittany Howard is exchanged for a male star. Paul Janeway is evidence of the folly of judging people by appearance. Wearing a formal lounge suit, he refrains from alcohol, and claims to prefer an evening in watching Netflix to going out. But far from being reserved, his voice has immense range, being stretched as he croons. The real surprise is his ability to dance: Paul's a charismatic figure, constantly coming to the edge of the stage, and physically engaging with the audience.

The show was incredibly energising, and with increased experience performing in larger US venues, the band has become louder and tighter, opening with an exciting instrumental number to ratchet up the tension before Paul came onto stage. In the unlikely case you're not mesmerised by his antics, there's plenty of other action to watch in a band consisting of trombone and trumpet players,  organ, guitars and Andrew Lee's powerful drumming. With only one album, the hour long main set was expanded with covers, notably one by their inspiration Otis Redding. These Alabama natives play retro soul: like Israel Nash, they look to the past for inspiration, yet these sounds are deeply ingrained in their Southern culture and flow from the heart.

The world is exceptionally fortunate that Paul Janeway didn't pursue his calling to become a Pentecostal preacher. Yet, watching him whip the audience into a frenzy suggests that he's channelling this passion to a different and wider following. Indeed, in an interview he admitted: 'Singing or preaching, it's the same kind of thing... It's very much like church to me', Of course, music can be spiritual, whether or not it references religious subjects. Paul learnt to sing in the church, and the band is so steeped in the deep south's evangelical tradition that it's impossible not to absorb the frenzied enthusiasm. I can relate to the friend who drove for seven hours to see St. Paul and the Broken Bones in New Mexico recently; feeling so fortunate to been at the front of the venue, amidst the joyful atmosphere created by these rising stars.

Set List
  • Chicken Pox
  • Don't Mean a Thing
  • Sugar Dyed
  • I'm Torn Up
  • Shake
  • Half The City
  • Broken Bones and Pocket Change
  • 99 1/2
  • Like a Mighty River
  • Let It Be So
  • It's Midnight
  • Call Me
  • Grass Is Greener
  • Make It Rain

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