St. Paul and the Broken Bones has made waves across the country since early 2013 when it began to extensively tour. Reno learned exactly why Feb. 13 .
Dressed in their Sunday best suits and ties, the Broken Bones members looked sharp and sounded sharper as they started their set with an instrumental version of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song.”
It was raucous, it was funky and it was dirty. Lead singer Paul Janeway pulled out all the stops as he screamed his way through a powerhouse set that lasted nearly two hours in Cargo, the ground-level venue inside the Whitney Peak Hotel.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones is a Southern soul outfit from Birmingham, Alabama with a modern edge and attitude separate from the Memphis Stax sound from years gone by.
Janeway is not Otis Redding tender, nor is he Sam Cooke smooth. He is a freight train daring you to contain him with each show-stopping wail. In fact, his voice is more similar to Jimmy Page’s guitar than it is to Wilson Pickett’s howl; biting and aggressive, relentlessly emotive. As he alternated between sauntering and sprinting across the stage, he commanded everyone’s attention with the confidence of a trained thespian.
“Now, I’m gonna give it all to ya” Janeway said with a drawl, “and I’m gonna need you to give it all to me, Reno.”
The crowd erupted with affirmation before the band swayed into “It’s Midnight.” That interaction was representative of the entire show. The evening was more of a conversation than a performance, with the audience fanning the metaphoric flames at Janeway’s feet and the Alabama septet returning the favor.
As Janeway pulled note after note from the stratosphere, the band soared with him. Guitarist Browan Lollar peppered the set with obligatory Steve Cropper-esque licks, but played them with a swagger that whispered of Jimi Hendrix. His gritty tone sat beautifully on top of the pulse provided by drummer Andrew Lee and bassist Jesse Phillips.
The horn section was highlighted by the band’s tight, no-nonsense arrangements, lifting choruses to new heights and powerfully punctuating breaks.
Lastly, on B3 organ, Al Gamble swirled angry stabs around Janeway’s vocals as the band cooked underneath them on burners like “Shake!” “Make it Rain” and its explosive encore of “Try a Little Tenderness.”
It was the band’s first time in Reno, but Janeway assured the crowd that it would not be the last. After a short encore set that included a cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” and the aforementioned stirring rendition of “Tenderness,” St. Paul and the Broken Bones was gone, but even as people flooded out onto Commercial Row, the energy was palpable. With ringing ears and a dropped jaw, I didn’t have a doubt that St. Paul and The Broken Bones had, in fact, given it all to us. Roll Tide.
Sean Rowe warms up the night
As Sean Rowe walked onstage, he grabbed a duct-taped acoustic guitar, gave the crowd a wave and smiled warmly. The audience shifted and hummed as he tuned before displaying his warm tenor voice and frantically rhythmic guitar stylings. In a black tee and jeans his appearance was unassuming, but his performance of songs like “Joe’s Cult” and, fan favorite, “Desiree” coupled the presence of a more charismatic Ray LaMontagne with the lyrics of a less existential Leonard Cohen.
Rowe’s songs are immediately accessible and familiar even as he uses an array of effects pedals and muted rhythm techniques to separate himself from the sound of the classic singer-songwriter. A strong command of dynamics allowed him to move between bluesy, funky songs like “Wrong Side Of the Bed” and his sullen cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The River.” His genuine gratitude for the praise he received warmed the stage for the rest of the evening.
Editor’s note: Spencer Kilpatrick lives in Reno and is part of the rock duo Failure Machine.