Challenging the musical landscape: St. Paul and the Broken Bones returns to Oxford

Posted on Apr 1 2019 - 5:50am by Griffin Neal

After 75 minutes of uninterrupted vibrato and groove, Paul Janeway and the rest of his eight-piece band abruptly left the stage. Calls of “One more song!” filled the auditorium, and for a brief moment, it seemed as if they’d never return. But they did return. They always do.

Janeway, draped in a shimmering black cape and sequined Nikes designed by his wife, slowly stalked back on stage following this premature exit. Both floors of The Lyric exploded in applause, hungry for more of St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ genre-defying melodies.

Photo by Katherine Butler

As the applause faded, Janeway grabbed the microphone. He scanned the crowd, drew in a deep breath, and asked, “Y’all think y’all are ready for this shit?”

Veteran observers of Janeway’s theatrics knew what was coming: three encore songs, culminating in “Broken Bones & Pocket Change,” a carefree ballad about unrequited love.

As the chords of the song began, Janeway jumped off the stage, weaving through the crowd without missing a note. He ran up the stairs to the second-floor balcony, hanging onto the railing and suspending himself over the 200 or so people watching below in awe. He made his way back down the stairs and stepped onto the bar, crooning the song’s and the concert’s final notes: “I’m going down. I’m going down today,” he sang.

Aside from St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ three-album catalog of retrogressive rock and soul, Janeway’s on-stage antics are the band’s calling card. He’s been known to roll himself in a carpet under the stage, affectionately known as the “carpet burrito.” The best part? None of it is rehearsed.

“There are certain segments in the show that it’s just kind of like, ‘Alright, Paul, do whatever you want to do,’” Janeway said before Friday night’s concert. “For me, there’s a danger. There’s this unexpectedness. There’s all these things, and it seems like there’s a recklessness to it. And I like having that because that’s how I perform — not really caring what people think.”

This indifference Janeway speaks of is manifested throughout the band’s newest record, “Young Sick Camellia.” It’s a message-heavy record about reckoning with the sins of Alabama’s past, and it diverges from the band’s previous two albums both lyrically and sonically.

Jack Splash, a 10-time Grammy nominated producer known for producing everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Alicia Keys to Katy Perry, teamed up with the band to create this record. It’s full of synthesizers and electronically-driven basslines, a product of his proximity to hip-hop.

Janeway said there was little hesitance to stray from the sound or message that had defined the band’s previous seven years on the scene.

“I think you just get bored. … I feel like that’s what you should always do. You should challenge yourself and challenge the musical landscape you cover. I think that’s important,” Janeway said. “For me, it’s always about what’s moving me at the time because I have to be genuine to who I am and to myself. If I think that’s what’s going to be the best art, then do that.”

Despite the shift in philosophy in this album, the band’s groovy ethos persists. “Apollo,” the hit single from the record, was dubbed “Prince-worthy funk” by Rolling Stone, and songs like “NASA” and “GotItBad” contain the funky soul elements that catch the band’s audience.

Photo by Katherine Butler

“We make music for people who love music,” Janeway said. “What’s interesting for us is we do have a large slop of people we do collect. For us, it’s always kind of weird when we play to older crowds because it’s like, ‘Are they going to like this?’”

Friday night at The Lyric, the band’s fanbase was on full display.

There were college students stumbling in from an afternoon on the Square and jamming along with adults and professors and writers, who were perhaps searching for the sounds of their youths. It was a catch-all in musical appreciation, and St. Paul didn’t disappoint.

Janeway worked the crowd like a maestro. Tossing the microphone in the air and letting the cord fumble between his fingers, he smirked as the band put its full catalog on display. It was St. Paul’s second trip to Oxford, and the band played for nearly two hours. Janeway praised the city’s food and culture and, like a true entertainer, pressed the proper buttons to engage his audience.

“We do love it,” Janeway said to the crowd before diving into “Apollo.” “That’s why we keep coming back.”