Paul Janeway, lead singer of soul-revival outfit St. Paul & the Broken Bones, recalls his first trip to Las Vegas. “I was little,” he says, laughing. “What blew me away were the slot machines in the airport. That is weird. Someone gets off the plane: ‘I gotta gamble—I gotta gamble right now!’”
Almost two decades later, those same slot machines will greet Janeway when he lands in Sin City to play Life Is Beautiful. “This will be our first show in Nevada,” he says.
It’s been a year of “firsts” for St. Paul & the Broken Bones, who this summer played their initial gigs in Germany, France and the Netherlands. Additionally, the Birmingham, Alabama, septet released their first full-length album in 2013. Half the City made the Billboard and iTunes charts, earning glowing reviews for a sound that’s tight as a silk stocking and solid as a concrete block, with rolling rhythms, gleaming horns and classic, gritty R&B vocalizing.
Indeed, Janeway’s pipes are St. Paul & the Broken Bones’ trademark: No one expects convincing Otis Redding and Sam Cooke covers out of a guy who looks like Ralphie from A Christmas Story grew up to be an accountant. Actually, Janeway was on his way to a career in number-crunching until he decided to take one last swing at the brass ring two years ago, when he and bassist Jesse Phillips got together to record a few tracks. That turned into a band, which turned into the EP Greetings From St. Paul & the Broken Bones. The soulful disc and the band’s roof-shaking live shows, including appearances at SXSW, earned them local love, then industry buzz and, eventually, fans around the world.
“I tell people all the time that it was our last-ditch effort,” Janeway says. “[For] me and Jesse, it was our last hurrah. I was unemployed and decided to go back to school. I was in the middle of getting my accounting degree and was working as a part-time bank teller. … Now it’s playing shows and people wanting to meet you and take pictures with you.”
St. Paul & the Broken Bones already have played a number of festivals this year, from Paris’ Rock en Seine to Tennessee’s Bonnaroo, even sharing bills with Life Is Beautiful headliners Kanye West and Outkast. “When you play a festival, someone might have heard of you or never heard of you at all,” Janeway says. “You get onstage and surprise people—it’s fun.”
Another plus when playing festivals? Getting the chance to check out other acts. “I always look at the lineups in case I have free time,” Janeway says. However, this weekend, it’s not the other bands that have the frontman excited so much as the abundance of chefs and food stands available throughout Life Is Beautiful. “Goody, goody gumdrops! I can eat and then throw up onstage!”
St. Paul & the Broken Bones performs at 7:35 p.m. Sunday on the Western Stage.