St. Paul & the Broken Bones at Amsterdam, 7/31/14
Photo By Steve Cohen
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
with Ryan Holweger
Amsterdam Bar and Hall, St. Paul
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Ahead of St. Paul and the Broken Bones' sold-out show at Amsterdam on Thursday night, Mayor Chris Colemen proclaimed that it was St. Paul Day in the city of St. Paul. The seven-piece soul band from Birmingham, Alabama, rose to the occasion during a 90-minute set that featured impassioned gems from their full-length debut, Half the City, as well as some wisely chosen covers that reverently mined the rich history of Southern soul music and the distinguished Muscle Shoals sound.
Following Mayor Coleman's proclamation, the stellar six-piece band took to the stage and ignited the festivities with "Chicken Pox." The track had some crunchy, Booker T. & the M.G.'s undertones beneath the brassy sheen of the two-piece horn section composed of Ben Griner on the trombone and Allen Branstetter on the trumpet. After they sufficiently warmed up the room, vocalist Paul Janeway joined them to a loud ovation. Janeway's personality easily charmed the room, and his resonant voice gave each song heart.
After "Don't Mean a Thing," Janeway announced, "We're going to need to see some asses moving in the crowd to this next one," as the band launched into the Stax-heavy sound of "Sugar Dyed." Sadly, there wasn't much dancing throughout the full house. The band still tore through fervent versions of "Dixie Rothko" and "I'm Torn Up," which both had a smooth elegance to them.
Photos By Steve Cohen
"Happy St. Paul Day," Janeway declared proudly in his warm southern drawl. "Birmingham is going to have to step up now, and give us the keys to the city or something." They followed with a jubilant, horn-drenched take on Sam Cooke's "Shake" (done "Otis Redding-style," Janeway explained).
After a touching rendition of the woeful "Broken Bones and Pocket Change," the band changed tones and tempo expertly to begin a funky and filthy cover of Wilson Pickett's "Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do)."
Al Gamble's luxurious keys carried a moving version of "Let It Be So," before the band once again gave a musical nod to one of their most prominent influences, Otis Redding, as they tore up a lively version of Solomon Burke's "Down in the Valley," which Redding made famous on his classic album, Otis Blue. "We have no real attachment to this city, but based on our name, we consider this to be our unofficial home," Janeway proclaimed. He gave us a bit of his history, revealing that he used to sing in the church, to which an audience member quipped, "No shit!" causing Paul to crack up. And they proceeded to take us all to church with a heated take on "It's Midnight."
Photos By Steve Cohen
The main set came to an end with a flourish, as the James Brown-like jam "Call Me" flowed smoothly into "Grass Is Greener." A sinister version of Tom Waits's "Make It Rain" proved to be a showstopper, as Browan Lollar's crunchy guitar tones gave the song a fitful kick. After a quick encore break, Janeway returned and announced, "We're going to do something here that we didn't do over there at our show in Minneapolis [at the Varsity Theater back in June]." And it could have just been a coincidence with Sir Paul McCartney coming to town on Saturday, but the Broken Bones got a jump on Macca by covering Wings' Band on the Run classic "Let Me Roll It." Lollar absolutely owned a scorching guitar solo, so much so that Janeway was bowing to him on stage.
"This is my all-time favorite soul song ever written," Janeway announced proudly. "If y'all don't know this one, I just feel bad for you." A simmering rendition of "Try a Little Tenderness" emphatically ended the night, as the slow-burning emotions of the song gradually gave way to a rousing din, with Janeway's rich vocals soaring through the room. The group even added in a few false finishes like true showman, squeezing every last drop of raw feeling out of the song while also soaking in the adoration of the crowd.
Personal Bias: After hearing rave reviews of the band's Varsity show back in June, and enjoying what I heard on their debut, I was excited to see them live for the first time. They definitely lived up to the hype and then some.
The Crowd: A full house that sadly didn't dance much, and filtered out as the night wore on, needing to get home before midnight on a work day.
Overheard in Tte Crowd: "This guy is the real deal, right here. Now let's get some more beers!"
A Note About the Opener: Ryan Holweger and his two-piece backing band delivered a stirring opening set of alt-country originals and classic covers. Sadly, a good portion of the crowd talked over his set, but the songs reached me. While his style stood in stark contrast to the headliners, he set the stage well for them, while also winning over at least one new fan in the process.
Here's Mayor Coleman's proclamation:
Don't Mean a Thing
I'm Torn Up
Shake (Sam Cooke)
Half the City
Broken Bones and Pocket Change
Ninety Nine and a Half (Won't Do)(Wilson Pickett)
Let It Be So
Down in the Valley (Solomon Burke)
Grass Is Greener
Make It Rain (Tom Waits)
Let Me Roll It (Paul McCartney & Wings)
Try a Little Tenderness (Aretha Franklin/Otis Redding/Sam Cooke, et al.)
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