“This is the biggest crowd we’ve played to,” said St. Paul, who was making his Minneapolis debut with St. Paul & the Broken Bones Sunday night at the sold-out Varsity Theater.
It was clearly a love fest for Paul Janeway, a Birmingham, Ala. singer who has chosen the odd-in-Minnesota moniker of St. Paul.
Forget about Mayer Hawthorne, Allen Stone and Fitz & the Tantrums. St. Paul is the modern-day star of blue-eyed soul. On Sunday, he came across like the reincarnation of Otis Redding in a bespectacled Louie Anderson’s body after a very successful diet.
Decked out in a black suit and white shoes (so you could watch his fancy footwork), St. Paul proved to be a terrific showman, sliippin’ and slidin,’ dropping to his knees, rolling his shoulders, strutting on one foot. He clearly has gone to school on James Brown.
Vocally, St. Paul sounded like a graduate of the Otis Redding School of Southern Soul Singing where Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes must have been one of his instructors. St. Paul has perfected the pleading, the pain and the passion. And clearly there’s some southern preacher in him, too.
What he hasn’t mastered, though, is the demand and command of James Brown. In true soul-music tradition, three members of the Broken Bones were wearing matching suits and ties (though the drummer took off his jacket) and three members were dressed like a rock band in un-matching, fairly casual outfits (guitarist Browan Lollar wore blue jeans for crying out loud but played tasty southern guitar fills in the spirit of Steve Cropper).
The bass player, Jesse Phillips, sounded just right on the blues-rock stuff, such as “Make It Rain,” but he couldn’t make the soul songs swing. And while we’re at it, the Broken Bones could benefit from the addition of a saxophone to the horn section (trumpet and trombone right now) and a female backup singer. (See the Dap-Kings.)
Speaking of which, rising Twin Cities rapper/singer Lizzo sat in with St. Paul and the Broken Bones for the encore on Sunday. She had performed with them at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, in March.
She was the right foil (Minneapolis to Janeway’s St. Paul) on “Change Is Gonna Come” (photo above) as the two powerhouse vocalists exchanged lines. Was it dramatic? Yes. Was it soulful? Even more so.The crowd went crazy even though some of them had no idea who Lizzo was.
She stuck around for “Hey Jude,” which St. Paul said was the Wilson Pickett version. It was a spirited moment but I would have preferred the finale he’s done at some other shows – Redding’s guaranteed knockout “Try a Little Tenderness.”
St. Paul and the Broken Bones delivered a 90-minute performance – an impressive length considering that the group’s debut album, “Half the City,” is only about 45 minutes long. Wonder if the album title is a reference to the Twin Cities? Janeway mentioned Minneapolis several times but never the city that is his namesake.