St Paul and the Broken Bones Live in Bristol

Retro-soul revivalists St. Paul & the Broken Bones were originally set to play Bristol’s Trinity Centre on the Southwest tour of their tour. They were scheduled to play Bristol’s Trinity Centre on their U.K tour until an incendiary performance on Later with Jools Holland saw the band moved up to the more impressive location that are Colston Hall. This was an intelligent move, certainly, considering the reception the band received band at the close of an incredible set would have been a great way to tear the roof off of a lesser-appointed venue!

The band USP in addition to playing old-fashioned soul music with the bravado to cheer the most skeptical of hearts, is in the form of the imposing leader Paul Janeway, a soul shouter with the vocal ability to exceed the screams of all of his competition on the re-emerging R&B circuit. Couple it with St Paul’s mania for MT4 Indicators indulging his body in a frenzied burst of stage acrobatics that make James Brown to shame and you are in the presence of an utterly captivating, soul-singing shaman.

With only two albums that include the tense first album Half the City (2014) and the more decorous sequel Sea of Noise (2016) to their credit the Alabamian band is definitely working on their debut. 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 climb to the top of the mountain of pop fame is worth mentioning: a white kid (not so much that you’d recognise it by the way he sang Janeway! ) born in rural Alabama who, as a child of a Christian fundamentalist family, thought to be one day a Pentecostal preacher until when he was in his teens, he decided to leave his calling to pursue a career in accounting as well as the indulgence of making the kind of music for secular purposes that was previously banned within the Janeway home.

Janeway may be keen to stress that he’s turned his back on everything “old-time” religion (within 30 seconds of stepping onto the stage, he unfrocked himself, dazzlingly stripping off his religious robes in order to expose the extravagantly pattern-strewn jacket beneath) However, a childhood spent clasped to the bosom of the Mother Church is deeply enshrined in his highly mannered stage show – starting with the superficially scripted “good god almighty” to the unscripted “have mercy” (or, maybe, it’s actually the other way around) which he frequently uses to underscore the raw emotion of a lyric. The Sundays that he spent watching hellfire preachers raising cane in the pulpit have clearly left their marks too. Janeway is forever raising his hands in mock supplication as he gazes toward the heavens as he calls that “congregation” to dance “their asses off”. That’s better than putting around the collection bowl!

The highly well-rehearsed and well-watertight band – co-founder Jesse Phillips (bass), Al Gamble (keys), Browan Lollar (guitar), Jason Mingledorff (saxophone), Chad Fisher (trombone), Allen Branstetter (trumpet) and Andrew Lee (drums), kicked off the 90 minute set with the fun and casual “Flow with it”, an instrumental that highlights Janeway’s cool, glacially cool falsetto to rapturous effect. Some other early highlights included the soul-soul ballad with a gender-neutral slant “I’ll Be Your Woman” and the intoxicating “Brain Matter”, which saw Janeway play every inch of soulful desperation from the lyric:

“That’s my dad’s gun shooting the other son’.

The set really climbed to the highest notes, with a stunning rendition of the funky “Midnight on the Earth” and a stunning cover of the Van Morrison classic “I’ve Been Working”. Anyone who’s heard Van or the caledonian soul Orchestra’s fiery live take of this track on the previous It’s Too Late to Quit Now re-issue will know exactly the high bar that had been set.

When you thought the show couldn’t get better, the group stomped into the tune that gave it the title “Broken Bones and Pocket Change”. Janeway was known to warn fans to not have a bathroom break throughout the track, however it was no such warning last night, so some unlucky punters missed a terrifically hammy five minutes – Janeway is driven to mock despair, collapsing theatrically to his knees before shamblingly falling to the floor and disappearing under the drum kit, rereturning only to kiss and then throw his gold-plated winkle pickers all over the arena. The song (if anyone was actually paying attention at this point) ends with an anguished Janeway pummeling the hell out of the floor, feigning anger.

Memorable, though, not exactly show-stopping, as the band had unfinished business, rounding off their show by performing”Is it Me,” the Wilson Pickett homage “Call Me” and the heavy-duty gospel scream of “Sanctify”. The four-song encore featured an unrefined and sloppy cover of Otis Redding’s “Shake” (in their early gigs the band covered the entire album the song by Otis Blue to compensate for a lack of original material) and a frankly authentic “Is It Me” ” The song lays the truth of Janeway’s theological confusion:

“Jesus is encased in my TV screen, giving me all the answers, but never keeping me in his arms / Heaven is far away and I can’t find peace’

The set closes with a delirious grandstanding rendition of “Burning Rome” complete with captivating vocals that brought laughter and applause in a spontaneous manner, not for the first time in the history of the audience who were astonished.