Editor’s note: St. Paul and the Broken Bones played the Georgia Theatre in Athens on Jan. 29. Johnathan McGinty and Joe VanHoose were there.
Joe VanHoose: Let’s just start here: St. Paul and the Broken Bones plays such a better show than Bruce Hornsby.
Johnathan McGinty: I think that’s clear. Though, to be fair, I’m not sure I can clearly characterize the Bruce Hornsby experience as a “show” … part performance art piece and part garage band jam session is more appropriate. But no need to walk down that valley road (see what I did there) because we just watched one of the best new bands in a long, long, long time.
JV: That’s the thing about these guys. If you could buy stock in bands – you probably can in some instances, but I’m not looking it up on Google – I would buy all I could of St. Paul and the Broken Bones. I don’t know if they’ll be around for 10 years, but they’re certainly off to a hot start. Think about this: a little more than a year ago in Athens, they were opening up for Jason Isbell. A few months after that, they were playing at The Green Room. Now they just sold out the Georgia Theatre. That’s a lot of growth in a year.
JM: With all due respect to The Georgia Theater, they just played friggin’ on “The Late Show With David Letterman” … and Letterman loves them. These guys went from being an obscure act to one of the hottest bands around, and that’s with a dude who looks like a mild-mannered bank teller as their frontman.
Of course, it’s understandable. Unlike the crush of music that is out there today – a weird mixture of acts who fluctuate between trying to be newest hipster “thing” or attempting to emulate the techno sounds of the early and mid 1980s – St. Paul and the Broken Bones really are different, and they’re different by being simple.
It’s classic 1960s and 1970s soul music, harkening back to Otis Redding and Sam Cooke with a slight touch of The Tams mixed in just to keep it interesting.
JV: Adaptable soul music at that. I’m a big fan of the band’s first LP, but the covers last night of Radiohead, David Bowie and Otis Redding were killer. Honestly, I can’t think of a moment in the show where the energy waned. The crowd – even the older crowd – was into it from start to finish.
JM: I had no idea what that David Bowie song was, most likely because I’m terribly unhip, but it was awesome.
JV: I think it’s on “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” soundtrack, but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s deconstruct this thing a bit. First, the singer Paul Janeway’s vocals seemingly have no limit. He can be James Brown one minute, Otis Redding the next and then bring in a falsetto that channels the ghost of pre-crack Whitney Houston. He also looks like Mike Matheny.
JM: I assume you mean Martin Matheny, formerly of local political prowess and currently of WUGA fame. Mike Matheny is a great manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, but he’s more in the Billy Joel category. Well, not really, but whatever.
What killed me was the talent of the horn players, particularly trombonist Ben Griner. Not only was he immensely talented, meshing jazz with soul with rock effortlessly, but you got to tip your hat to a guy who willingly chose to play the trombone in school. It’s likely he got ribbed some back then but, judging by the volume of young women at the show, that’s a life investment that is paying some dividends now.
JV: And then there’s the drummer, who looked like he was gifted the ability to play the drums by a genie earlier in the evening. Guy never stopped smiling, and he kept everything on time. He also makes me think that I should wear more vests. The guitar player was pretty damn good, too, but he wasn’t showy. Wait – were all the members in this band nerds in high school?
JM: I don’t think that’s a question. Though my personal experiences have clearly taught us that nerds in high school win in life. It’s that whole being smart and having personal drive thing, which is why being nerdy is way more awesome. I don’t think that’s the lesson from the band’s show, but an interesting sidebar nonetheless.
JV: Another sidebar: Let’s talk about the crowd for a minute. What do you think the median age was? I feel like we were both south of that number. My parents would have fit right in – and it should be noted that they like this band. Is that a good thing?
JM: It was a healthy mix. The floor appeared to trend younger (maybe 25 to 40), but upstairs, where we were, it definitely felt 40 or over. Safe to say, it was a crowd that was pretty diverse, and that’s a good thing. Whether or not you want your mom at a show with you is another thing altogether.
JV: My mom’s seen me good and soused before. You should see us at Christmas.