St. Paul and the Broken Bones
If there’s one venue fit to be called LA’s musical cathedral, it’s the Hollywood Bowl. Not only is it a revered sonic monument on a hill, it’s also a place with one of the most captive audiences any artist will likely play in front of. If you’re going to see a show at the Bowl, chances are you’re soaking in every second of it. Last night it was the perfect venue to see Alabama soul outfit St. Paul and the Broken Bones make believers out of thousands of the city’s devout concert congregants. They were sharing the stage with Boston-based quartet Lake Street Dive and the night’s headliner Trombone Shorty. But for those looking to see a band truly coming into its own in their biggest LA show to date, the boys from Birmingham were the main attraction.
The religious overtones of St. Paul’s sanctified aesthetic (aside from just their name) were apparent from the moment they hit the stage. A replica of the band’s artwork for sophomore album Sea of Noise inspired by church stained glass windows floated over the stage. Lead singer Paul Janeway came strutting out behind his band wearing an saintly-looking shawl covering his firetruck red suit with checkered lapels. Letting loose the gathering hymn of “Crumbling Light Posts Pt.1” which opens their latest album, it’s clear that the band’s set these days is a little less fire and brimstone and more of a communal experience designed to get the crowd progressively engaged in the spectacle before them.
“[During the tour for our first album] Half the City, it felt like we were just punching people in the face the whole show,” Janeway told the Weekly in a recent interview. “And now it’s a situation where I think we build it. We don’t lose the audience but we build it and once you hit that peak, it’s massive.”
But as with any good concert, there might be one peak, but many highpoints. In Janeway’s case, most of those came during his high notes. For the singer who can hit seemingly any vocal register on the planet, it wasn’t long before the crowd was blown away by his soulful crooning on songs like “Grass Ain’t Greener” a slow burning song that starts as a ballad and grows into an anthem for the broken hearted, or “Call Me” a horn heavy jam that got people up and dancing with half-empty glasses of wine in their hands. Watching the spirit of greats like Al Green, James Brown and Otis Redding come channeled through a white guy who looks more like an accountant than a rockstar is a sight to behold. But more than just his vocal chops, flashy suit and gold shoes, Janeway knew how to entertain the crowd. From playing with the microphone, to flaunting his ankle breaking dance moves and reckless abandon, his showmanship backed by a furiously talented band garnered plenty of converts in the box seats near us—most of whom had never heard the band before.
The band’s set was an abbreviated version of their typical set, being that they were opening for New Orleans jazz fusion phenom Trombone Shorty. But they still put together a strong cross section of songs from their two albums thus far. The latter stuff from Sea of Noise, like “All I Ever Wonder” is a well crafted slice of old soul with an updated twist on current struggles in society that Janeway says is necessary for bands in his genre to stay relevant to today’s audience.
“I think what you get leery of is being a retro soul band. And that’s when you start singing about heartbreak and stuff that anybody can talk about. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it has it’s place. But for me how do we be a little more topical.”
The highlight of the set of course came from one of the band’s final numbers “Broken Bones and Pocket Change” which saw Janeway hopping into the crowd and singing to audience members before climbing up to bougie expensive box seats and rolling in the aisles like he’d just been forehead palmed by Benny Hinn.
At the end of it all he got back up on stage with one shoe, sweaty and smiling as the crowd cheered. For a band that’s pushed hard enough to get to this point, it’s pretty obvious that their first trip to the bowl left it filled with soul and the holy spirit.