As last night’s pop-soul parade by St. Paul and the Broken Bones headed for home at the Lexington Opera House, singer and frontman Paul Janeway discovered one of the more novel ways to exit and then re-enter the stage. In the midst of the anthemic “Broken Bones and Pocket Change,” the singer, having jettisoned his gold-and-glitter shoes, hit the stage floor and crawled under the drum riser. After a few neatly dispensed verses sung, in effect, in absentia, Janeway rolled back into view, wrapping himself in a stage mat along the way. And there you had one of the more curious concert snapshots in recent memory — an artist belting out a tune with sturdy high tenor detail but looking like he had been swallowed by a roll of carpet.
Admittedly, that was perhaps the most extreme moment in a 100 minute performance that marked the return of the celebrated Alabama band that played some of its first road gigs in Lexington at the old Willie’s Locally Known on North Broadway.
But Janeway was an altogether different singer in this return visit, the first of a two-night engagement at the Opera House (tonight’s second show is sold out). Gone were the throatier, raspier tones that surfaced when he would exert his voice. On display instead was a richer, cleaner and far more expressive set of pipes that Janeway immediately put to use on the show-opening “Crumbling Light Posts, Pt. 1,” an ambient, but gospel-hued meditation where his vocals rose from a confident high tenor to a very Prince-ly falsetto.
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While Janeway and company revisited a few choice favorites from their 2014 debut album “Half the City” (including a buoyant “Grass is Greener,” which emphasized the extent to which the Alabama-bred Broken Bones’ ensemble sound is stylistically rooted in Memphis soul), the performance gave heavy preference to the 2016 sophomore record “Sea of Noise,” a denser, darker work from which the band played 11 compositions.
Among the highlights were the cool, big beat crooner “Brain Matter” (which, oddly enough, used an abridged cover of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” as an intro), the organically funkified “Flow with It (You Got Me Feeling Like)” and the sunnier “Tears in the Diamond.” The latter showcased the most detectable current inspiration in Janeway’s singing, Al Green.
Even with the Broken Bones’ history in Lexington, it is understandable to be wary of an all-white soul band from the South. But Janeway and company were no imitators of an often co-opted musical tradition. The set-closing “Sanctify” and the show-closing encore of “Burning Rome,” both wonderfully paced slow soul pieces, amply borrowed from rockish accents supplied by guitarist Browan Lollar and the vintage R&B orchestration of a three-man horn team.
The results could also be viewed as a vindication of sorts. In a week where Alabama has taken a beating in the headlines for the doings of an altogether different representative, Janeway can be viewed as something of a cultural hero. Come to think of it, he might just be the kind of write-in candidate his home state needs. Everyone says we need new voices in Washington. Well, Alabama, here’s your chance to send one.