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St. Paul and the Broken Bones resurrect taproot sounds of Southern soul in KC

St. Paul and the Broken Bones
St. Paul and the Broken Bones

More a salesman than a preacher, Paul Janeway presents an incongruous picture on stage fronting St. Paul and the Broken Bones, a nine-piece soul band from Alabama.

Janeway looks much more like the accountant he was training to be when he took one last swing at a music career: balding, bespectacled and slightly nerdy. His bandmate Jesse Phillips once compared Janeway to Drew Carey, an apt comparison.

But when Janeway steps on stage with the Broken Bones and leads them into another blast of horn-laden Southern gospel and soul, he evokes the vocal prowess of some of the great soul singers who emerged from his native Alabama, like Wilson Pickett, or one of his heroes, Otis Redding.

Tuesday night, he and the band spent about 100 minutes unleashing their firebrand version of old-school soul upon a crowd of about 900 at Crossroads KC. It was the band’s third performance in Kansas City in less than two years. Each time it returns, the band graduates to a larger venue: from the RecordBar to Knuckleheads to Crossroads KC. Word is getting out about this band’s live shows.

The night began with a set from JD McPherson, a former middle-school teacher from Tulsa, Okla., who revives some retro sounds of his own: the early days of rock’n’roll and rockabilly (think Sun Records era) and a few fellow but older revivalists, like the Blasters. He and his four-piece band (drums, standup bass, organ, guitar with some sax) delivered a rollicking 45-minute set, which included several lively originals, like “Bossy” and “Fire Plug.”

They were an ideal opener and warm up for St. Paul and the Broken Bones, who wasted no time casting a revival spell of their own. Janeway took the stage theatrically, wearing a cape while his suit-and-tied bandmates found their perches behind him.

After the opening song, the hymnal “Crumbling Light Posts Pt. 1,” Janeway doffed his cape and jumped into his onstage personae: an evangelical singer in constant motion, peddling the heat and fervor that fills his band’s songs and music, some of it born in lust and longing, some of it in sorrow and regret.

The Broken Bones are tight and precise, muscular and free-wheeling. Janeway is the visual focal point of the band, and his voice, which can issue a rousing, visceral bellow as easily as it can glide into a slick falsetto, is the signature of its sound. But the band mustered a hearty share of catharsis on its own, especially during its two instrumental jams.

The set list drew mostly from the band’s second and most recent album, “Sea of Noise,” released in 2016. They performed all but one of the 15 tracks (also minus the two “Crumbling Light” interludes). They also pulled a few tracks from their debut album “Half the City,” released in 2014, including “Like a Mighty River” and “I’m Torn Up.”

The Bones’ songs are invariably melodic and groovy, even the slow-cooking ballads, but they are not always eminently catchy and can lack a level or two of songcraft — a bridge or chorus that sticks in the brain after the song is over. Regardless, they invigorated the crowd through most of the set, prompting plenty of dancing up front and starting a few sing-alongs, especially during the opening to “Midnight on Earth,” one of several highlights.

Others highlights: the incendiary “All I Ever Wonder,” which ignited Janeway’s vocal fire; and “I’m Torn Up,” which evoked a heavy Al Green vibe.

The set peaked with “Broken Bones and Pocket Change,” which started out as a low-key, austere soul ballad but soon erupted into something else all together. Janeway would remove a shoe and use it as a prop, tossing it over his shoulder eventually.

He also splayed himself over a cabinet and eventually ended up inside it, requiring some rescue assistance from a crew member — singing all the while.

By the end of the song, he was on the floor, throwing a tantrum and decking his microphone stand. Afterword he joked about almost rolling off the stage in that cabinet and maybe pulling a groin muscle.

They would perform three covers: a few measures of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem”; Van Morrison’s “I’ve Been Working,” which featured a fierce baritone sax vs. trombone duel; and during the encore, “Eventually,” a Tame Impala song that was stripped of its electro-psychedelic wardrobe and dressed in retro gospel/soul. During that one, Janeway busted a few moves that recalled John Belushi’s imitating Joe Cocker.

The encore ended with two of their own songs, and with Janeway coaxing some handclapping and singing out of the crowd, which didn’t take much. The Bones’ crowds in Kansas City keep getting bigger because word about their shows is getting out, and people are readily buying what St. Paul is selling.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Set list

Crumbling Light Posts Pt. 1; Flow With It (You Got Me Feeling Like); Like a Mighty River; Flute Solo; I’ll Be Your Woman; Tears in the Diamond; All I Ever Wonder; I’m Torn Up; instrumental; The National Anthem (Radiohead song); Brain Matter; Waves; Midnight on the Earth; I’ve Been Working (Van Morrison song); Broken Bones and Pocket Change; Call Me; instrumental; Sanctify. Encore: Is It Me; Eventually (Tame Impala song); Half the City; Burning Rome.