Paul Janeway, the frontman of St. Paul & the Broken Bones, is a terrific R&B showman. And he’s an even better singer. Even if I couldn’t decipher half of what he sang Wednesday night at the jam-packed Minnesota Zoo.
Words don’t really matter with Janeway. Because he emotes like a classic Southern soul singer -- with yelps and whoa’s and wails and ecstatic testifying and a falsetto that will make your knees quiver and your heart melt. You know exactly how he’s feeling.
And if he didn’t come across like Al Green doing Otis Redding.
Of course, that was just the singing. Let’s talk about the dancing.
If this 35-year-old bespectacled ex-accounting student from Birmingham, Ala. has gone to the School of Great Southern Soul Singing, he’s also studied the showmanship of James Brown. Despite the suffocating dew point at the zoo, the animated Janeway hit the stage with a rhinestone-decorated cape over his sky blue-and-dusty rose floral print sport jacket. He whipped off the cape with dramatic flair.
Janeway has a special covering on the floor behind his microphone stand so he can shimmey, slide and shake like JB. He essayed similar moves away from the special mats, and he even danced after taking off his shoes.
Ah, the shoes. He was stylin’ in a pair of two-tone black-and-white numbers with noticeable heels. A showman willing to do just about anything to excite a crowd, Janeway headed up an aisle of the zoo's amphitheater, tossed a shoe underhanded to the stage and promptly plopped his body down in Row I. He was singing the ballad “Broken Bones and Pocket Change” in a soaring voice, then without missing a beat thanked the woman for the seat next to her and continued up the aisle, sweating like an NBA star in overtime of a playoff game -- and singing all the while.
Janeway found his way to Row O or P and then rolled onto his back on the concrete steps and kept singing into his gold microphone with his head pointed down the aisle toward the stage. And his voice sounded wonderful.
Before finishing the song, he headed back to the stage, then cruised up a different aisle and eventually back to the stage where he strutted soulfully in his stocking feet. Good gawd!
This was St. Paul & the Broken Bones’ fourth appearance in the Twin Cities since 2014. The Alabama octet will deliver its third full-length album in September. The horn-punctuated ensemble previewed some new tunes but it was the old favorite, “Grass Is Greener,” that earned a standing ovation a half hour into an 85-minute set.
Most of SPBB’s material is slow or medium tempo. A cover of Van Morrison’s “I’ve Been Working” helped pick up the pace. But the slow burners are Janeway’s knockout punch. For the third and final encore number, he promised to take the fans to heaven, which he did with swelling Hammond B3 organ and dramatic testifying – and his finest vocal -- on “Burning Rome.”
In a word – soul-sational!