Clenching his teeth together like a fighter dog with its jaw wired shut, (Sandy) Alex G began by singing in a monotone: “My favorite animal is the whale. I like his big fat tail. I like his big fat tail,” from his aptly-named track “Whale.” The night of music that followed was just as peculiar.
Thalia Hall, a music venue tucked away between multiple upper scale bars in Chicago, provided a gorgeous backdrop for the night’s artists. Beach Bunny, a Chicago act which describes itself as “emo lady power pop” opened the night. The band’s lead vocalist, Lili Trifilio, oozed stage presence.
She reminded the audience multiple times that she was nervous, which only added to her charm, especially considering it wasn’t noticeable in the slightest. Before singing “Prom Queen” off the 2018 album of the same name, she said of the song, “It’s about beauty standards and how they’re fucking stupid.” Although Beach Bunny’s set didn’t stand out as being musically unique, Beach Bunny filled each song with energy and passion.
Nandi Plunkett, the artist known as Half Waif, followed this with a hypnotic performance. Assisted by blues, purples, reds and golds of light contorting around her, the stage never looked the same one second as it did the next. Half Waif’s music was equally as captivating. Her intricate layering of distorted sounds and her own vocals demanded her music be felt, not just heard. Unfortunately Half Waif’s spectacular haunting vocal delivery and self-reflective lyrics were often hidden beneath the over-mixed bass. But this served a purpose, making synth-pop bangers of many methodical tracks from her 2018 album Lavender.
The audience was antsy at this point. Two openers and two fairly long transitions between sets had built up anticipation in the room. When Alex G finally entered the stage along with a drummer, bassist and fellow guitarist, the crowd’s excitement was palpable.
This excitement gave way to a rather underwhelming performance. There were a couple of noticeable issues across his set. For one, Alex G’s use of abrasive, high-pitched guitar riffs became annoyingly repetitive. Even worse, these sounds were sometimes so abrasive that their screeching nature distracted from the actual music beneath. Another issue was that when transitioning to higher notes from lower ones, Alex G’s voice often became so quiet that it sounded as though he had stopped singing entirely.
From a visual perspective, Alex G’s set was blander than the acts that had preceded him. The lights changed color but only between songs, and the whole band felt stagnant for his performance of around an hour. The only noticeable movement onstage was Alex G, on multiple occasions, turning away from the audience to face his drummer for no apparent reason. It was actually rather disconcerting. It felt as though he was leaning away from audience interaction.
All of this isn’t to say Alex G’s set was entirely flawed. In fact, when Alex G leaned into softer, more nostalgic sounds, his songs were far more enjoyable. One particular highlight was the track “Bobby” from his 2017 album Rocket. For the song, Alex G invited Half Waif back onstage, who is featured on the track. Their two voices singing alongside one another was incredibly catchy. Even one harsher musical moment, which involved Alex G standing over his keyboard doing his rendition of a metal track, was an admirable experiment despite its strangeness.
Watching Alex G was conflicting. On one hand, his visuals were boring, his music was mediocre and his singing ability was nonexistent. On the other hand, the concert was somehow still really fun. For this I applaud (Sandy) Alex G, even though he ended his own show as the third-best performance of the night.
At this point, for plenty of bands of this era, artistic apathy would have set in. Live sets might rely entirely on the nostalgia of past releases or the novelty of a reunion tour. However, Of Montreal’s frontman Kevin Barnes still creates and performs like it’s the first time he’s had a significant crowd to watch him. This band has been incredibly prolific since their beginnings, releasing a staggering 23 albums in the past 20 years.
Of Montreal has existed in various forms since the late 90s, but don’t seem to have lost any creative steam. The psychedelic pop band hails from Athens, Georgia, and is part of the Elephant 6 Collective, a group of prolific and well-known recording artists and bands who all come from Athens. Other notable bands in this collective include Neutral Milk Hotel, the Apples in Stereo, and Olivia Tremor Control.
Stepping into Thalia Hall, I had very few expectations for what I was about to experience. I thought there might be some interesting psych visuals, given their colorful sound, but nothing too out of the ordinary. I didn’t start to question what I might actually be getting into until I wandered around the crowd. There were a bunch of women wearing powdered wigs and Victorian-era dresses, several dudes in unicorn onesies, and wigs everywhere. The costumed and extravagant performances that followed for the next several hours made it clear my ideas of normality were what really were out of place.
Opening the night was Locate S,1, whose recent album Healing Component was produced by Barnes. Sunny, reverb-y guitars and frontwoman Christina Schneider’s soothing falsetto made for pleasant pop songs. Despite having simple instrumentation and melodic lines, the songs were really complex, changing keys just about every line. It was pop music for the most cerebral of music nerds, but still catchy.
Between sets, the anticipation in the air felt tangible. The crowd swelled as more and more costumed concertgoers found their way into Thalia Hall. Finally breaking the tension, Of Montreal entered and started playing a single droning synth note. A masked man with a top hat pranced onstage to huge applause, and welcomed the crowd with a monologue about space travel, finally inviting our “Space Captain” Kevin Barnes to the stage.
Barnes came out in full drag, escorted by three robotic backup dancers, and launched straight into “Soft Music/Juno Portraits of the Jovian Sky.” The rest of their set only spiraled further into theatrics from there. Every four or five songs, Barnes and his posse would disappear backstage and reemerge in new gaudy threads.
For crowd favorite “it’s different for girls,” there were leather catsuits and a devil with a whip, like we had been transported to some hypnotic bondage dimension of hell. Nothing was underprepared. There were lavish props, dance routines, and kaleidoscopic visuals for every occasion. The whole show felt like one long, euphoric encore.
The moral here is: if you get a chance to go see Of Montreal, even if you know very little of their music, don’t pass it up.
Standing in line outside the Vic Theatre waiting to get into a Violent Femmes concert, you might forget what decade you’re in. Your fellow concert-goers are silver-haired dads in Bears jerseys, millenials with upside-down cross earrings and Thrasher beanies, middle-aged punk heads in leather jackets, and slightly-confused college kids like me, who grew up listening to the Violent Femmes on vinyl in their parent’s living rooms. It makes sense. The Violent Femmes have been going strong seemingly forever. Since their start in 1981, the group has kept it kickin’ for an impressive thirty year run. Even after a notable hiatus, the group came back together for their 2015 EP “HAPPY NEW YEAR,” 2016 full-length LP “WE CAN DO ANYTHING,” and of course, for their 2018 tour of the United States and Canada, which I was so blessed to witness.
The show opened with a soft-spoken 30-minute set from Minneapolis’ Your Smith, a one-piece acoustic-y guitar and vocalist. With lyrics like, “You had it all but you went and gave it up,” and “You’re lying to me baby and I blame it on you,” the bluesy/folky/sway back and forth set reminded me of Neko Case at her most sentimental, or maybe of a pre-2015 Taylor Swift with more cussing. While Your Smith was mostly easy to digest and lullaby-esque, it’s clear that she has real talent, with pipes that can belt out notes that break the whole audience into applause.
Following Your Smith, crew members appeared on stage to rip sheets off what I thought were giant stage props, but that turned out to be full horn section instruments, a 6 ft contrabass saxophone, a conch shell, a xylophone, and a charcoal burning barbeque grill (we find out later this is a part of John Sparrow’s drum kit). The three members opened the show wearing all black, looking like dads, but like, really cool dads, with a mellow classic: “Confessions,” off of their first, self-titled album. They were joined halfway through the first song by a full band: including two trombones, saxophones (of all shapes and sizes) played by Blaise Garza, two trumpets, and a kickass blues harmonica.
By “Blister in the Sun” the set had truly whipped up into full Violent Femmes angst-rock fashion. The whole crowd was bopping to the punk folk classics, even the moms behind me who asked me to take their picture because they “don’t understand selfies like you millenials do.”From their performance, its clear that the group has been together for a long time. They know each other’s energy, their performance is effortless, casual: they truly have fun, while not taking themselves too seriously. They decided what songs to play on the spot, frontman Gordon Gano frequently said tidbits like “oh yeah, that’s a good one, let’s play that.” Even though it’s clear the group knows how to put on a show, I got the feeling that I was watching the Violent Femmes exactly as they were in their beginnings. Gano, Ritchie, and Sparrow were framed by simple lighting and visuals while switching instruments (violin, banjo, cajon), breaking into guitar/bass/xylophone/barbeque grill experimental improv solos, and laughing at each other as they worked through their set: which was a rollercoaster of blues, rockabilly (with songs like “I Could Be Anything”), minimalist punk, and of course, the 90s garage rock we all know and love (with “Give Me the Car,” “Gone Daddy Gone”).
Their easy-going energy, undeniable showmanship, and chemistry with each other and the audience show that they have truly encapsulated the spirit of what the Violent Femmes aspires to be, and have brought it with them for a career of over three decades. They’ve made promises for music in the future, and I don’t doubt it’ll happen. The band is going strong, reader glasses and dad bods in tow. Every band claims to be timeless, but the Violent Femmes just might be.
Big Freedia, a New Orleans bounce artist full of high-energy, positive vibes, and Tank and the Bangas, a five-piece group known for channeling the entire scope of the New Orleans music scene, co-headlined Concord Music Hall on Friday night and brought some southern heat up to Chicago. Check out some highlights of the two below:
In front of a sea of baseball caps, wire rimmed glasses, and craft beers, the audience waited in anticipation for the post-punk band from Chicago, Lala Lala, to take the stage. Inside of the industrial-designed, exposed brick walls of the Bottom Lounge in Chicago’s West Loop, an indie rock band named WHY? was having a ten-year anniversary tour. WHY? is a band from the Bay Area with a lead singer whose stage presence is intoxicating. This tour was not only a ten year anniversary, but also a celebration of the reissue of their 2008 released album “Alopecia.” Which is an alternative hip-hop album filled with spoken words, powerful drumming, and a meaningful yet cacophonic mix of lyrics.
The Ophelia’s, an indie rock group from Cincinnati, opened the night. They’re fronted by four women who described themselves, in their prior bands, as the “token girl” of the all guys band. While wearing carpenter jeans and a turtleneck t-shirt, the lead singer, in an animated voice said, “Let’s get sad,” and the bright notes from the violinist began. Contrasting an upbeat, singer-songwriter sound with dark lyrics, The Ophelia’s captured the audience’s attention better than most openers usually can.
Soon after The Ophelia’s performance, Lala Lala took the stage wearing patchwork shirts, reminiscent of a Piet Mondrian painting, that included hot pink glow-in-the-dark squares. Without a word, the lights dimmed and the beginning chords to “Water Over Sex,” one of the tracks from their latest album release, rang out. Lillie West started Lala Lala, a Chicago-based dream-pop punk band, in 2015. This past September, they released their sophomore album titled “The Lamb,” which is a reflective album describing death, anxiety, and addiction.
When the lights brightened and the quick bass drum of “I Get Cut” began, a switch seemed to flip inside of every audience member. Almost immediately the full body thrashing, foot stomping, and lyric belting began. Even with stern stage presences’ and tuning malfunctions, it was easy to see that Lala Lala was enjoying themselves. With a sound so unique to them, filled with slurring synths and ambient guitar, it was incredible that Lala Lala was able to replicate something so similar to that of their album.
A short break in between songs called for the rhythm guitarists to change, so that West could perform a song off of her first, self-released album titled “Sleepyhead.” After releasing “Sleepyhead,” West signed with Hardly Art, a record label that promotes emerging talent, and they helped her produce “The Lamb.” With a scream sung into the abyss, West crooned the lyrics to “Lala Song.” “I’m not even listening, I’m not even listening, You’re not even nothing, You’re not even nothing.” This chant gained momentum each time it rung through the crowd. West’s lyrics, concise and complicated, take a few listens before their deeper meaning illuminates itself. By the end of the song, each member of Lala Lala appeared exhausted, like they had just poured every ounce of emotion out onto the stage
Once Lala Lala finished, while part of the crowd flooded out of the venue, and every WHY? fan from the back surged forward to claim the empty spots, I couldn’t help but think about Lala Lala’s captivating, raw, unedited stage presence. A stark contrast to WHY?’s in-your-face, high-energy performance, which made them a great pairing.
As the first band began to play, Palberta, they immediately set the tone for the night. Their music and attitude were a perfect match for the intimate setting that is Bottom Lounge. While their performance had an unrehearsed and “practicing in the garage vibe”, their jokes with the audience and quick eerily harmonious punk songs was the perfect soundtrack as the audience filed in.
After Palberta’s thirty minute set, Porches was next to play. It was clear right away that Porches was a much rehearsed band however they did not lack the levity and intimacy that Palberta had started. The band knew how to use the microphone effects to their advantage and while it may have been overdone at times giving their songs a definitively ‘80’s sound, the overall effect was impressive. As Porches began to play the crowd filled out and the crowd showed their love and respect for the band as they sang along to many of their slower songs that held the most meaning to the band and their fans. The band’s set especially managed to show the versatility of their sound as they seamlessly transitioned from ballads to dancey electronic music reminiscent at times of Daft Punk. Everything in their performance was perfectly planned from the lighting to their set list that it showed the stark difference between their performance and Palberta’s making it clear why Porches has been invited to perform at Pitchfork but also made their performance feel formulaic at times.
Girlpool was last to perform and while their set was well prepared, they still maintained a more laid back attitude. They started their set with the two lead singers singing a capella and then eventually bringing the rest of the band in for the loud and melodic chorus. Many of their songs followed this similar structure which highlighted the bands’ strong voices as well as their instrumentality. While the majority of their set was from their newest album, the audience became most enthusiastic when Girlpool played from their most famous album “Before the World was Big”. The concert really hit its stride however when all of the band members left except for the two lead singers and they sang mainly without instruments. These songs were mainly the bands’ older music and it was sung with more meaning and passion than the rest of the songs. As the band left, the crowd pleaded with them to come back and despite it being a Tuesday and well after the band was supposed to finish playing, they all came back for one last song that was one of their older and more well known songs much to the audiences’ pleasure.
“Let the rhythm take control! Let the music move you!” Anthony Green, lead singer of rock band Circa Survive, shouts into the writhing crowd. His hair drips sweat onto blushing fangirls as he holds the microphone out to let fans sing along. There is no doubt about it: Green is a crowd favorite. From the moment he takes the stage, the energy in Chicago’s Riviera Theatre reaches even to the white-haired and wrinkled woman singing along from the balcony.
But this blustery November evening begins with a slower and more melodic tune than the headliner’s old school emo jams. Queen of Jeans, an almost entirely female outfit excepting the drummer, starts the night out with a six-song set filled with slow, doleful riffs and the ethereal vocals of lead singer Miriam Devora. Her rich voice is reminiscent of “dream pop” singers such as Lana Del Rey and Florence and the Machine, and as her frizzy, waist length brown hair sways to the vintage-style rhythms of the guitars, it’s hard not to be mesmerized. For their finale, they end with their own eerie but soulful take on R&B singer Aaliyah’s song “Are You That Somebody?” as the low, blue lighting and melodious riffs take the audience through an enchanted forest of harmonies.
“Hey, the guys said to tell you to be careful for the next set since there is supposed to be a lot of activity at the front.” The scruffy security guard leans in to warn me and a fellow photographer about how “heavy” the next set will be. As a frequenter of death metal shows, I find this hard to believe.
“As compared to what?” I ask.
“The last set.” Well, compared to the hippie dream girls of Queen of Jeans, just about anything would be heavier.
Little did I know, fans of the post-hardcore and sometimes spoken word band La Dispute rival even the most devoted of death metal audiences. From the first song to the last, crowd surfers test security’s limits, and I cradle my camera close as lead singer Jordan Dreyer practically flies over my head into the crowd. I have only ever seen a lead singer with that much energy since I attended a While She Sleeps concert, and Dreyer hardly ever stands still. Typical of post-hardcore bands, his vocals are fairly indistinguishable, but La Dispute’s sound can best be described as a very strange bastard child of Twenty-One Pilots (alt-pop) and Counterparts (hardcore punk). However, Dreyer’s energy is a sharp contrast to the rest of the band who stands in the shadows as they play the notes they have to. The bassist even has his back turned to the crowd for most of the show, and the set fizzles out with an incredibly short and unmemorable last song and a rather exhausted looking Dreyer.
Both openers fly by with relatively short sets, and despite some amazing music and incredible energy neither can compare to the sheer presence that Circa Survive brings to the stage. A great concert should leave fans in the pit with sore vocal cords and covered in sweat, and Circa Survive undoubtedly delivers.
Anyone who listens to old school emo bands like The Used and Taking Back Sunday knows that Circa Survive’s first album Blue Sky Noise brings back all of the middle school feels. Even though the band prioritized their newest albums, once the opening riffs of “Strange Terrain” start to play the audience can hardly be contained. This song is my third and last one in the press pit, and I spend most of it protecting my head and face from crowd surfers’ feet and Anthony Green’s deadly microphone, (which he lassoes out into the crowd at least twice). Even as I get uncomfortably too close to Green’s torso as he sprints over to where I’m shooting and leans out into the crowd, I can’t help but sing along with an enormous smile.
For the slower songs, minimalist and vintage-looking lightbulbs illuminate the band, and for the more upbeat rock ballads, trippy lights spiral away on a backdrop. Throughout it all, Green’s unusually high-pitched voice reverberates across the theatre, and for once you can actually distinctly hear the bass player. Most importantly, there is love. The spray painted word adorns one of the amps, Green spends more time in the crowd holding the hands of fans than actually on stage, and the voices of hundreds of black-clothed outcasts sing in unison: “Only light can get through…”
Approximately seven months ago, San Francisco-based garage and psychedelic rocker Ty Segall played a show at the Vic Theater that easily remains a contender for the most chaotic, electrifying show I’ve ever seen. When it was announced that he was playing a Thalia Hall show, I knew I had to relive the experience. In all of my eager anticipation, I glossed over a few key details. First, it was a solo, acoustic show. It was also an “in the round” show, meaning the artist plays on a slightly elevated platform surrounded on all sides by audience. I had no idea when I signed up that Ty Segall–the frantic, cacophonous shredder–would pack up his electric guitar, send home his band, and set up in the middle of the audience while equipped with only a highly decorated acoustic guitar, a mic, and a glass of red wine weighing down his setlist. Has he gone soft?
In truth, no, because he has had a soft, tender side for a while. Segall has an extensive body of mostly acoustic ballads sprinkled into his latest works, alongside his 2013 album, the psychedelic folk, predominantly acoustic Sleeper. These songs, with a couple exceptions, rarely make it into his live shows, which is unfortunate considering they’re some of his most affecting, beautiful songs and a perfect balance to his more raucous numbers. With the chance to hear some of Segall’s less played cuts, I approached this Friday night show with renewed enthusiasm.
But first, William Tyler. Hailing from Nashville, the show’s opener outdid Segall in minimalism—while he occasionally spoke through the mic, all of his songs were instrumentals played on just his acoustic guitar. His songs, each using a different unconventional tuning, were dynamic; continuously meandering and changing form, swelling and diminishing throughout their often six- to eight-minute running times. A fingerpicker in the vein of American primitive guitarists like John Fahey, all ten fingers were at work at most times, composing odd, intriguing chord shapes or dexterously alternating between strings. While many opening acts have a difficult time maintaining their audience’s attention, even with a full band, William Tyler, his head constantly engaged in an impassioned bob, was the center of attention. Conversation occasionally picked up between songs but the crowd, for the most part, remained hushed, apart from a pair of backward-baseball cap-donning Segall bros who never missed an opportunity to bellow their approval at Tyler’s most intimate and emotive moments—“Fuck it up Willy!” I knew there was something missing when I listened to Modern Country, Tyler’s latest album, but these guys showed me what it was.
And then Ty came on, matter-of-factly plopping down his wine glass paperweight and launching into “Crazy,” a song from the aforementioned Sleeper. His set list included a number of rarely played, originally acoustic songs, but also stripped down versions of some of his usually fuzzed out rockers and a series of covers taken from his new covers album Hot Fudge. There are a couple notable differences between electric and acoustic Ty, the most pronounced being the emphasis on his voice in the acoustic setting. At the Vic, his voice at most times was just one contributing factor to the all-consuming wall of noise; here, without all of the instrumental distraction, his dynamic range was on full display. Songs like “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned),” a 10+ minute, proggy epic off of his most recent self-titled album featured a throaty, unhinged growl; his natural, reedy Lennon-esque voice; and a demented yelp peppered in here and there. He also engaged more with the audience, taking full advantage of the “in the round” format and moving his mic to face different parts of the crowd. At one point he dove into an impromptu Q&A with one of the bros about his dog, the subject of his track “Fanny Dog.” Apparently, Fanny is a dachshund.
There is one similarity between the two settings, whether it’s an amplified full band show or a stripped-down acoustic set: a Ty Segall show is neither tame nor predictable. Songs still devolved into spazzy technical freakouts, Ty Segall still battered the strings of his guitar with such ferocity that it’s a surprise they survived the show intact, and bodies still moved, albeit with less intense contact than in his full band shows. Though it was a shame that as a solo performer he wasn’t able to recreate some of the intricate and beautiful full band arrangements of his acoustic songs, he did as much as one can conceivably do with the limiting format, resulting in an entertaining show that rarely felt like a diluted version of his act.
“Incredibly millennial” probably sums up the experience of going to a LANY concert. Unlike most things you read, I mean that in a completely flattering way. Paul Klein and LANY put on a show that really just reveled in that sweet spot of simple frank lyrics and dreamy synth-pop beats.
Despite the Riv being packed to the very back of the balcony, the uproar that occurred as Klein took to the stage and started singing “Thick and Thin” off of the band’s new album Malibu Nights came as a surprise to me. While I didn’t go into the concert expecting their slow reflective tunes to transform into the much more infectious upbeat pop songs, LANY definitely changed my mind. From the Coors sipping dad to my left and the unashamedly loud preteens behind me, everyone seemed to abandon their inhibitions as they sang along to older songs like “yeah, babe, no way” or new singles like “I Don’t Wanna Love You Anymore,” both of which hit that perfect pop-song-kind-of-heartbreak.
But what really made the night stand out was the stage set up. Split into two levels, the band played on the top elevated half as Klein pranced and swooned around on the lower level. He occasionally climbed up on to a clear stand to play the keyboard for a little theatricality – and it worked. Both halves were backlit by huge LCD screens. As the backdrop changed with each song and set the mood, I also felt like I was living through an extension of this unique technological age of relationships that we’ve all become used to – or rather struggle with. Coupled with synth beats and electronic melodies, Klein’s lyrics place you right in the middle of a relatable modern saga.
I’d recommend checking out LANY just because they’re the kind of band where slower, more repetitive songs that seem to lack a certain oomph become so much better after hearing them live. “Hericane” stood out as a favorite and the communal swaying that happened while everyone belted out “our home’s a wreck, look at this mess” was well worth the trip downtown.
What’s evident is that Paul Klein is equally as charismatic as he is heartbroken. An hour before coming on stage he tweeted “I want us” and while I am wondering who hurt him so profoundly, if it’s going to find its way into these honest indie pop songs, I’m here for it. The night ended with a rousing version of “ILYSB” and I couldn’t recommend going to see Paul Klein sing candidly about love and loss more.
In another lifetime, Paul Janeway was probably a nerd. His warm, round face is hidden behind thick glasses and topped with a fluff of orange hair. But he was born in the Deep South, growing up with a rich musical tradition and a slow changing culture that seeps into bloodlines and passes from one generation to the next. Janeway was born with the blues. With a voice that could easily belong to Otis Redding instead, Janeway channels the pure, unrefined passion that elevates music from a sensual to a spiritual level—a truly soulful sound that would not feel out of place at church on a Sunday morning.
The now eight-piece group officially formed in 2012 in Birmingham, Alabama, and consists of guitarist Browan Lollar, bassist Jesse Phillips, Andrew Lee on drums, Al Gamble on piano and organ, Allen Branstetter on trumpet, Amari Ansari on saxophone, and Chad Fisher on trombone. Since their formation, the band has released an album every other year. This year we were blessed with their third release, Young Sick Camellia, which, as its title alludes to, examines Janeway’s complicated relationship with culture and family in the south (hint: the camellia is the state flower of Alabama). A self-proclaimed “blue dot in a sea of red,” according to the band’s website, Janeway has done an excellent job of bringing the South out of the South. By adding dance-worthy elements of funk and R&B into their soul base and questioning tradition with their lyrics, St. Paul and the Broken Bones proves to be more than just a relic and pushes thoughtful and original content out of the confines of the South and into the rest of the world.
If you’re more entranced by Janeway’s booming voice than by the words he’s singing, you need only to see him onstage to realize he’s no fan of tradition. I’m not sure exactly what to call the drapery that adorned his body—a fur coat made of tinsel?—but it was certainly not something you’d find in your papa’s closet. From my low angle as a photographer, I was able to get up close with the finishing touch on his shimmering outfit: a pair of glittery, red, white, and blue Nikes. I regretted that the shoes would go unnoticed by everyone who wasn’t in the front row but it’s not like the rest of the audience had a bad view either. Flanked by an enthusiastic Lollar on guitar and Phillips on bass, Janeway commanded the stage and even broke the dividing plane into the crowd’s space. Hand outstretched like a preacher, he teetered at the edge of the stage and bellowed, “Your love is like a mighty river, baby…” Saint Paul Janeway, the preacher from Alabama, out to spread a new gospel with his broken bones.
When I think of their sound, I think of the word “full.” Full of rhythm, full of different instruments, full of moving parts, full of emotion, full of life and all its complexities. I saw no less than four instrument switches throughout the show between a group of seven active musicians. And yet, even with the combination of seven instruments and Janeway’s booming voice, no one sound was overpowering. Each had its own rhythm, its own part of a harmony, and they complimented each other. St. Paul and the Broken Bones are masters at subtly manipulating the individual voices at play in their music so that their songs don’t blend together under a blanket. Whether the keys and the bass were laying down funk in songs like “GotItBad,” or the guitar hummed a slow melody like “Sanctify,” or the horns took charge in their breakthrough song “Call Me,” the complete sound was undeniably Southern but without methodically copying the classics or pushing one person to carry the weight of the rest of the band.
The multilayered sound of the band was in turn complemented by the Riviera Theatre itself, which plays with dimension through its tiered floor and multiple balconies that accentuate the depth of the space and draw all eyes to a focal point far behind the plane of the stage. The band chose a starry backdrop, giving the illusion of an infinitely receding space behind the band, whereas the lighting penetrated back into the audience. The band itself, at the midpoint between Earth and endless sky, became the sun—the soul—of the shared space. And boy did they have fun with it. They controlled the Riviera with light and energy that affected everyone from the Miller-drinking twenty-somethings clustered by the central bar on the floor to the fifty-something-year-old couples in the balcony. Everyone was engaged and dancing nearly the whole time. The show was way more fun than I expected to have on a Wednesday night and I’m not complaining. A conflicted Southerner myself, I loved the way that St. Paul and the Broken Bones were able to both preserve and transform traditions and create something new out of a collection of old pieces. In two years, when they (hopefully) will repeat their two-year album release pattern, I look forward to seeing what they do next.