It was Friday night at The Beacham. The streets outside were crowded with drunken partygoers and all the typical lights and clamor of downtown Orlando at play. But I was in church. St. Paul and the Broken Bones were the preacher and choir, and they skirted the line of being the idol.
I was surprised at this crowd. It was the whitest show I’ve ever been to (not a critique, an observation), which makes sense because the band is the whitest band I’ve ever seen. But boy, were they moving. You can’t help it. I was standing beside a man in cargo shorts and a stoner beanie who was dancing like a jitterbug. The tall head of white guy dreds in front of me was pulsing in time. Even the uncomfortable looking dude who was only there to pick up girls couldn’t help but bob his head.
The Bones switched comfortably between blue-eyed soul, gospel, swing-infused tunes, and even sometimes stretched to Led Zeppelin inspired riffing and guitar soloing, all behind vocalist Paul Janeway’s room-filling bellow. Even your jaded reviewer was moved to shake his hips whilst barely holding back tears.
“Vocalist” is really too small a word for dancing-crooning-crying-sweating-marshmallow- human-pipeorgan Janeway. “I started out singing in the church when I was four,” he told the crowd in his good ol’ boy drawl that barely restrains the pipes of the 6’2” African American bastard son of Otis Redding and James Brown. “So when I say amen, y’all say it back. AMEN!” For the signature number “Broken Bones and Pocket Change,” he stood on the bar among the crowd. A soccer mom in the wings almost fainted when he pointed at her. “Sorry, sometimes the spirit moves ya,” he apologized to the Beacham tech staff as he climbed back onstage. St Paul has the charisma of the Baptist minister from “The Blues Brothers” with the face of a used car salesman.
The risk of ignoring The Bones for the Saint in front was real. I think I’m probably the only person who noticed that during Janeway’s crowd antics, guitarist Browan Lollar had switched to a flamboyant glitter-covered axe worthy of Prince. But that is a testament to Janeway’s stage presense, not his ego. Each of the band members took at least one solo, with Lollar and the reedsman (whose name doesn’t seem to be on any press info…) giving standout performances. Only trumpeter Allen Branstetter didn’t take a chorus at any point. Each time, Janeway called out his man by name and the crowd answered as if it were an altar call.
Which, in a way, the whole show was. It was a bit short for a Sunday service — the set ran about 2 hours including encore, whereas my childhood mornings in an Assemblies of God church lasted about 3 — but St. Paul and companions didn’t let up. From lights up to curtains, their intensity and stamina rivaled that of Ron Jeremy on an hourly wage. The encore was 3 songs long for God’s sake.
Gospel music has been mostly absent from the public consciousness for about 40 years now, but St. Paul and the Broken Bones seem determined to bring it back with nothing but their sweat and their breath. And with appearances on NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts, Jimmy Kimmel, David Letteman, CBS This Morning, and more, they might just do it. One of Janeway’s last addresses to the Beacham crowd was that the band planned on making a habit of visiting Orlando in the winter. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep an eye out for their return. It might just save your soul.
St Paul & The Broken Bones @ The Beacham by Troy Cunio