It had been over two years. Over two years since I’d felt the powerful, kinetic energy of live music surge through my veins. For more than 24 cold, lonely and boring months, my music spirit laid dormant inside of me, suppressed by the global pandemic. I missed moving my body to the beat of some powerful drummer, or to a guitarist ripping on a solo. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d ever return to my pre-covid concert-loving self. It had been so long—would I ever experience live music the same way again? What I did know, though, was that if there was any chance of awakening my music mojo, that rush that fills me from the inside out when at a concert, no ordinary four-piece band would do. I needed a big sound, a fresh and funky sound that would drive into my heart and jumpstart my music soul back to life. So, when I heard that southern soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones was making a stop in Toronto in March, I thought to myself: “Maybe there’s hope after all?”
I saw St. Paul & the Broken Bones back in 2018 at the Danforth Music Hall and they were incredible. I’m already a massive lover of soul and blues, and they really elevate their sound with frontman Paul Janeway’s superhuman vocal ability, blasting horn section, and overall funkified soul tunes that really get the crowd moving. So, tentatively, I secured myself a spot to the Toronto stop on the tour for their latest album Alien Coast, which came out in January this year.
The show was at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on the Exhibition Place grounds. I’ve never been to this venue before so was unsure what to expect. When I arrived, they checked vax passports (to my relief), everyone was wearing masks when walking around and, to my surprise, the space was full of chairs set up theatre style. “Huh, I guess we all have to stay seated?” was my initial thought. But boy was I wrong!
The band started off the show with the more subdued and atmospheric track from their latest release “Popcorn Ceiling”, which left me, and the audience, awe-struck by Janeway’s effortlessly controlled, piercing vocals. I sat in my seat staring at him in wonder, transfixed by his gorgeous voice and ethereal accompaniment. It felt like they were easing everyone in, welcoming them back, slow and steady to live music again. But then they cranked out their second song, the fun and upbeat “The Last Dance” from Alien Coast, and the crowd began to rise to their feet, slowly at first, until an eager patron in the third row turned around and shouted at everyone frantically to: “Get up! Get Up!!!”. I laughed (so did Janeway) and then immediately obeyed. As soon as I stood the music overtook me and I started to move. First my feet, then my hips, and by the song’s end my whole body was involved, flailing to the propulsive beat, blaring horns, and shimmering keys. It was one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time. I was so overwhelmed that, and please don’t tease me, I started to tear up. I was so happy, so invigorated, so relieved that this nightmare we’ve been living for the past two years was finally coming to an end, and I could once again enjoy one of my all-time pleasures in life—live music! St. Paul and the Broken Bones had done it, they awoke my music mojo!
From then on, the band had the crowd eating out of their hand. They could do no wrong. The six-piece produced a big sound, were super tight and dazzled with a full horns section comprised of an alto and tenor sax, trombone and trumpet, as well as a drum machine, organ, bass, and drums. With a setlist made up of tunes new and old, the aisles swelled with dancing bodies, arms waved energetically in the air, and people gyrated in time to the band’s sweet soulful sound.
They also performed “Minotaur” from the latest album, a tune that has one of the funkiest bass walkdowns I think I’ve ever heard, something that stands out far more live than on the recording. From their 2016 album Sea of Noise, they did “Flow with It” and “I’ll Be Your Woman”. From 2018’s Young Sick Camellia they performed the upbeat, danceable “Apollo” and “Convex”, which they held for the encore.
One of the most exciting elements of the show was the instrumental interlude. After about five songs in, with the crowd nice and warm, Janeway left the stage and the musicians took control. I love when bands do this – the lead singer steps away from the spotlight, giving the band time to shine. The musicians treated everyone to a slick instrumental breakdown, with many of them showing off their skills with rotating solos: first was the trombone (which I have never heard played like that before!), second was the trumpet, then the organ, and finishing with the drums. It was incredible to watch this crew of mega-talented musicians in their element, and the crowd ate up every second of it! I, for one, couldn’t stop dancing, a massive smile plastered on my face.
The band ended their 75-minute set with a three-tune encore: “Grass is Greener” and “Call Me”, both from 2014’s Half the City, and the aforementioned “Convex”. And, probably because of my lack of experience over the past two years, I broke my own music mantra, which is to always go to the opener. Sadly, I only caught the tail end of Thee Sacred Souls. They were great, too, and their sound reminded me of a modern Sam Cooke or Smoky Robinson, with stunning falsetto vocals and a vintage soul vibe. Definitely check them out if you haven’t already.
By the time I left, I was buzzing from adrenaline and excitement. St. Paul and the Broken Bones came through once again, and I credit them for getting me out of my live music slump. I truly don’t think any other band would have been up to the sizeable challenge. They resurrected my music soul, unleashed a part of me that I had been forced to stifle for so long, and took us all to church—hallelujah, testify!
Cover photo by Bobbi Rich for the artist