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St. Paul and the Broken Bones Make Miracles

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Miracles are best left to the saints. Those with a calling and a talent. Higher beliefs and a hatful of hope. At Off Broadway on Friday night, two bands delivered two very different sermons; if not quite miraculous, the music came very close.

LaFayette, La. lookers Brass Bed kicked-off the evening with Spoon-fed beats and blinding sunshine pop. The guitars cut circus-draped dreamscapes, while bass player Christiaan Mader lamented, “Can I be real without you,” like a paranoid romantic, giving nods to Jeff Buckley’s “Live at Sine” album. They wrapped-up a terrific set before clearing the stage but not the crowd.

The headliners hustled on stage. The well-manicured guitar player, a short-haired Steve Cropper, blew on his hands to warm them up and get the show rolling. He immediately assumed role of band leader, while a lone microphone waited upstage for its singer. They cranked-out a well-structured rhythm jam, reminiscent of early Stax singles. This was the entry music for the new saint of blue-eyed soul known as St. Paul, who took his place at the start of the second song and introduced the band as the Broken Bones.

They kept the audience on their toes; the first song raised the roof, the second promptly lowered it. The third flipped it upside down.

Frontman and exorcist impersonator Paul Janeway chimed in, “The last time we were in St. Louis, there were only 15 people here. What happened?!”

For starters, “CBS This Morning: Saturday” happened.

On the nationally televised show last week, the band played two live tracks from its new album “Half the City” (Single Lock Records) and the Off Broadway show promptly sold out.

By the fourth song, the band started breaking into the covers. With only a debut worth of material, they may be too early for such attention, but the Lord hath provided for this Birmingham, Ala. septet and they aim to deliver the best damn show they can.

First, an inventory of the group: An organist who plays like Lurch. The horns: high-school A-listers, dressed like J.Crew catalog extras. The bass player: bourgeois and basic, in an oversized hat and blindly following the rock lead; so much room for more exploratory funk here. Drumming: dutifully on point. In fact, the whole rhythm section was very tight, but uninspiring; it seemed committed to an exciting show with a safe setlist. The most dangerous thing about the group is its guitarist, Browan Lollar, a seasoned professional. Aspiring guitar players take note: he finger-picked his electric blues. For the entire show.

But other than his mind-bending riffs, there were few soloing leads, few musical spotlights from the band, which was disappointing. Such a tight and hardworking backing band should be allowed to shine more.

Most of that spotlight was soaked up by Janeway himself, doing his best impersonation of Jack Black impersonating Otis Redding, with a pretty-in-pink button-up oxford and matching pocket square. He’s the platonic friend you’d take to homecoming. A dapper hipster with a religious upbringing and a hard-on for Sam Cooke.

And the man can sing, surely he can. Soft, lilting lines. Throaty, chainsaw howls. The works. The voice alone requires a pack-a-day regimen just to get that grit and grime coating to stick to the vocal chords.

How Janeway can sing in such fashion every night while performing religious Tae Bo on stage to sold-out crowds is a mystery. Or maybe it is a miracle. And maybe that’s why they call him St. Paul.


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