Buzz band St. Paul & the Broken Bones did not disappoint the sold-out crowd at Zanzabar Friday night. Unlikely to play such a small venue again, the southern soul band delivered an energetic set of original songs and some very strong covers, including Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. While I started near the front of the packed house, I had to drift backwards to escape the crush and get some air (okay, beer), but drift is the wrong word. Moving in that crowd required slither-sliding your way through bodies like a twisting eel through water.
Before getting to the headlining act, I should say a few words about Nashville band Steelism, who got the evening off to a fine start with their guitar-driven, psychedelia-inflected sound. Jeremy Fetzer on his Telecaster and transplanted Londoner Spencer Cullum on the pedal steel guitar carve out a sonic landscape that immediately puts you in mind of classic spaghetti westerns and 60s movie soundtracks. Backed by keys, drums, and bass, Steelism is all instrumental, creating a cool, trippy vibe that set the stage nicely for the soul-shaking to come.
St. Paul's front-man Paul Janeway showed he knows how to "arrive," only coming on stage after a short instrumental warm-up from his band. From the rims of his geek glasses to the the tips of his white patent leather shoes, the lead singer created an irresistible persona to contain the raw, howling vocals that are a hallmark of the soul masters. His body is an extension of his voice as it dips, slides and rolls with the music. Watching Janeway perform, there is no doubt that he is fully inhabiting each song, whether it's a slow, heartbreaking ballad like "Broken Bones and Pocket Change" or the more exuberant funk and groove of "Call Me." The rest of the Broken Bones are no slouches, effortlessly creating the classic Muscle Shoals sound with catchy bass lines, understated but crisp guitar riffs, and those killer horns punctuating Janeway's boisterous vocals.
It's a testament to the band's authenticity, that none of the original songs sound at all out of place beside a classic like "Try a Little Tenderness." The songs have their own heft and emotion; they are not just hollowed-out copies of what's already been done. Clearly, Louisville music fans heard the word on this band, due to play Bonnaroo this summer. They already have a reputation as a band that you "must see" live, so get your tickets early the next time they come to town.
[Photo Credits: Lee Burchfield]