Show Review: St. Paul & the Broken Bones at the Ryman Theater, February 16, 2017

St. Paul & the Broken Bones made their Ryman debut as headliners on Thursday, February 16, and what a debut it was. I had last seen St. Paul at the Beacon Theater in New York in October 2015 when they opened for the Drive-By Truckers. Back then, it seemed the stage was too big for them but last night the Ryman was barely able to contain the ruckus they brought. If any label muckety-mucks are reading this who are of the mind that you have to get an immediate pay-off from the acts you sign or you need to move on to your next potential pile of cash – learn a lesson here. And while I’m at it, put your bean-counters down next to the mailroom where they belong and stop ruining music.

Half the City, a simply great record, was released three years ago tomorrow. In the ensuing img_3336three years St. Paul has played an enormous amount of shows and released a second record. Between October 2015 in New York city and last night in Nashville, a bona fide rock & soul force was formed – a force I whole-heartedly urge every fan of great music to reckon with.

Music is my religion. My cathedral is the live venue. Music, like religion is a visceral, emotional experience that can be explained with intellect, but cannot be understood without emotion. Part revival meeting, part Southern soul revue and part glorious exhibit of the power of music, in a little under two hours the audience was treated to the emotion of a gifted singer who feels everything he does backed by a band of top-notch, if not ultra-serious musicians. The joy and sorrow and sex and love and heartbreak interpreted for us by Mr. Janeway was juxtaposed by the intensity of the band. They moved and rocked but they did not belie anything other than the serious nature of the task at hand. That being said, I’ll give a special shout-out to drummer Andrew Lee whose infectious smile in the midst of all of this intensity was a joy to behold.

The stage, a mock church with the drums on the alter under a mono-chromed stained glass window and the parishioners seated in the pews of the Mother Church of Country Music, rocked and rumbled as Janeway, fully transcendent as the preacher of a sermon about love and heartbreak reminded us all that music with roots played by musicians with chops is what this whole thing is all about.

The acoustics of the Ryman are typically stellar but unfortunately a lot of the nuance of Janeway’s voice had to give way to the sheer volume of the evening. I’m not actually sure if that was a bad thing though because the power of the performance didn’t really leave a lot of room for introspective listening – that’s what the stereo at home is for, but since this is a review, I kind of felt obligated to come up with at least one negative.

If you haven’t checked out St. Paul and the Broken Bones yet, by all means, let’s get to it. And if they happen to bring their Southern soul revival and spiritual retreat to a town near you, get there and be cleansed.

Janeway pauses to reflect on the enormity of the moment on the stage at the Ryman with an audience who is joyfully giving back the moment to him. This is what rock & roll should be about – emotion and connection.