St. Paul & The Broken Bones do it halfway

St. Paul & The Broken Bones performed a spirited set at Mr. Smalls Funhouse last Wednesday, but were eclipsed by opener Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas, who were much better at engaging the crowd. (credit: Courtesy of wfuv via Flickr) St. Paul & The Broken Bones performed a spirited set at Mr. Smalls Funhouse last Wednesday, but were eclipsed by opener Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas, who were much better at engaging the crowd. (credit: Courtesy of wfuv via Flickr)

A friend’s dad told her that she needed to be uplifted, so he bought us tickets to see St. Paul & The Broken Bones at Mr. Smalls Funhouse on Wednesday. While I wasn’t lifted entirely to heaven, I was lifted pretty close to it. The outing provided an escape from the weekly Carnegie Mellon grind, with some smooth, jazzy soul, and an opener that I enjoyed more than the headliner.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones performed songs from their first and only studio album Half the City. Paul Janeway, the lead vocalist, blew the pulpit out of the church-turned-concert-venue with his commanding range, and arsenal of soul-stopping dance moves.

During many of the songs, Janeway shuffled his feet across the stage with his hands in the air and his head to the ground as he belted out a scream. During others, he panned his hands across the crowd as if speaking to every concert-goer in the standing room. When he pointed out into the crowd whispering sweet words of endearment, it seemed as if he was truly speaking to the individuals milling about in the back of the venue near the bar.

Accompanying Janeway were guitarists, a drummer, and a pianist, as well as standout trumpet and trombone players — without whom the band would not have its jazzy soul sound. The trumpet and trombone seemed to come in at the perfect moments to compliment Janeway’s raspy, yet sensual voice.

As part of a three-song closing, Janeway and the band performed “Call Me”, the band’s most popular number. The energy from the crowd almost matched Janeway’s energy — which is a feat considering that a kid hyped up on candy would have a hard time matching his energy. Where Janeway really shined though was in his cover of ”Try a Little Tenderness”. Janeway continually belted out notes that seemed to exhaust him, theatrically panting after each one, before the band kicked up the tempo of the song and continued on. Janeway eventually fell to the ground as the band played on and a guitarist checked on him. He jumped up in a burst of energy one more time to deliver a last walloping bout of song before collapsing for good.

But the headliner wasn’t my favorite part of the show.

Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas opened for St. Paul & the Broken Bones with a sweet, smooth set. Although I had not heard of the band before that night, I was able to peacefully bop my head along to Hernandez’s mellow voice accompanied by two guitarists, a pianist, drummer, and trombone player. Hernandez’s presence on the stage was captivating as she romped around the stage in a floral shirt and brightly patterned skirt.
Hernandez made it apparent that she and the rest of the band members were like a bandwagon of siblings: jamming out with the guitarists, and even grabbing an extra pair of drum sticks for one song to produce her own beats alongside the drummer during a lengthy instrumental break.

Hernandez was also able to do something that St. Paul & The Broken Bones did not: engage the audience. While the headliner had fans in the crowd who knew the words to their music, they did not interact with the crowd beyond mentioning previous visits to Pittsburgh and the larger Pennsylvania state. Meanwhile, Hernandez admitted to the crowd that she assumed most of her music was new to their ears. Nevertheless, during one song, she commanded the audience to crouch to the ground and slowly rise with her while she built up the beat before telling everyone to dance.

“And for those of you who hated that, this is ballad,” Hernandez joked, before whisking the audience into the slow, almost heartbreaking ”Cry Cry Cry” from what is also this band’s only full album Secret Evil.

The song, a deviation from the band’s usual upbeat, raw sound, was pleasant to sway to amid the feet-stomping tunes that surrounded it.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed St. Paul & The Broken Bones’s soulful songs that made me feel as if Mr. Smalls was being transformed back into the church it once was. It may have just been that Hernandez’s music was more in line with what I listen to when I put in my headphones, but I almost would have preferred that she was the headliner with St. Paul & The Broken Bones as the opener.

Thanks for the tickets, Mr. Goldberg!