I have resided in Birmingham, Alabama for the last six years yet I first heard of a local Birmingham band named St. Paul & The Broken Bones from a friend who lives in New Jersey. True story.
My friend posted this video and I instantly fell in love with the lead singer, Paul Janeway, who looks as unassuming as a Macy’s shoe clerk but has the soul of Otis Redding when he opens his mouth to sing.
I eagerly waited for their first full length album to be released and I was not disappointed in “Half The City”. In the meantime, the band was building up quite a following, appearing on every late night talk show around, and stunning people with their sound, which is really nothing new but very refreshing in this age of computer generated music and generic, recycled lyrics.
I got to experience this band’s vintage yet new sound and feel on November 13th when I had the privilege of seeing St. Paul & The Broken Bones play a sold out show at the historic Alabama Theatre. I had bought tickets in a brutal online battle, which led the band to announce a second show on November 14 and it quickly sold out also. Birmingham was very excited to have the hometown band back, it seemed.
E and I arrived at the show early and were very surprised by the crowd in attendance. It was a much older crowd, for the most part, than we are used to at concerts. We could have easily been going to see a Statler Brothers concert on a Sunday afternoon, judging by the crowd.
We were seated in the upper balcony, which didn’t afford a great view but again, I was just happy to have tickets. I settled in with a beer and we waited.
Suddenly, an ordinary looking young man wearing jeans and a red hoodie with “Roll Tide” scrawled across the front appeared at the microphone. No one recognized him. He then said “Hi, I’m Paul of The Broken Bones” and then everyone came alive. Paul, by the way, was named after Paul “Bear” Bryant, the greatest coach (so far) in Alabama football history. Also, I would be completely remiss here if I didn’t type in all caps “ROLL TIDE”.
Paul introduced a friend of his who would open up the show. To be honest, I can’t even remember the guy’s name but he was from Oklahoma and really good. It was just him, his guitar and an attached harmonica. He was personable and funny with his short stories in between songs and didn’t overstay his welcome.
But the crowd was ready to see their hometown boys. Paul got emotional a couple of times, telling the crowd his grandmother was in the audience, seeing the band live for the first time. He also said he had seen B.B. King and Tom Waits play in the same theatre, had watched Christmas movies there also (we’re taking our kids to a Christmas movie marathon there in just a couple weeks) and now he and his band were playing two sold out shows in his hometown theatre. It was truly moving to see him living his dream on stage.
The band performed the entire “Half The City” album plus a few covers, including David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream and Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees. The covers were distinctly St. Paul and if you didn’t know the lyrics, you probably would never have known they weren’t their own songs.
My favorite cover of the night was their closing song. It is also my favorite Otis Redding song. Here is a video of that exact performance:
Would I shell out more of my own bucks to see this band live again? Absolutely. Hopefully, the next album will be out before we know it and they’ll come on back home to perform again.
Here’s their album “Half The City” on Spotify, for your listening pleasure.