I was at Mercy Lounge last week, on a mission to see southern soul septet St. Paul & The Broken Bones, from Birmingham, Alabama. I say “on a mission” because that’s what it feels like when I set my sights on a show I want to attend; I gear up for it by “spreading the gospel” about how wonderful a band’s music is, how great the show will potentially be, passionately persuading (cajoling may be a better way to put it) others to go with me, constantly listening to the group’s music, researching the opening act, listening to the opening act’s music (when I can find it), and tearing up the interstate to get to the show in time to get a good standing spot near the stage. I know, it kind of sounds intense, but we all have our vices, right? For the last month or two, I’ve been listening SP&TBB’s music on Bandcamp, and then to their new 12-track LP Half The City, which was released on February 18th. What I didn’t get around to this time was checking out the opening act beforehand, Nashville’s own Steelism, a duo comprised of “[Jeremy] Fetzer, an Ohio-born guitarist with a natural affinity for the Telecaster, and [Spencer] Cullum, Jr., a pedal steel-playing Brit from Essex, east of London.” On a random side note, when I clicked on the link for Steelism’s website, I saw a picture of Fetzer and Cullum kneeling to pet a pig and a goat, which I quickly recognized to be Dottie the pot-bellied pig and possibly Lou the goat (I think his name was Lou) from the “petting zoo” at Fond Object Records on McGavock Pike in Nashville. If you are in the area, you should stop by to browse, of course, and ask to meet Dottie and Lou and the other members of the backyard menagerie. Anyway, I heard some chattering at Mercy Lounge before the show about how Steelism plays instrumental music, no vocals. Admittedly, I wasn’t very excited about it, but when Steelism took the stage, all my expectations were blown out of the water as I succumbed to the “intoxicating sounds of pedal steel and guitar” (which, coincidentally, is the title of their appropriately-named debut EP). Go ahead and click on all the links I’ve provided, you won’t regret it.
As we stood around waiting for SP&TBB, I glanced around and was taken aback by the diversity of the crowd there; there were pimply-faced teenagers, grungy co-eds, young professionals, and silver foxes filling up the Mercy Lounge for this sold-out show, proof positive of the generation-spanning, crowd-pleasing potential of the mega-force that was about to take the stage. Just as I was starting to get antsy, six of the seven members walked out on stage and started playing, but there was no sign of frontman Paul Janeway. The instrumental interlude ended, and the band began playing “Sugar Dyed,” one of my faves from Half The City; all of a sudden, St. Paul made a diva-esque entrance, decked out in a smart grey suit and shiny white patent leather shoes, and started dominating every inch of the stage. This group works hard to entertain, which was quickly made evident by the musicians’ soaked shirts the droplets of sweat that accumulated on Paul’s heavy-rimmed glasses. He pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket, mopped his brow, and said “I heard y’all sold this place out, thank you so much, that means we can go home tonight;” the band then played a Sam Cooke cover followed by their tune “Half The City.’ The whole joint was rocking and I noticed the floor was literally shaking under my feet. Moving into the slower “Broken Bones And Pocket Change,” another one of my favorites, and according to Paul, his Uncle Joe’s favorite as well, Paul took us to church and made us want to stand up and testify. After “Broken Bones And Pocket Change, ” Paul said “let’s move around again Nashville!” and the band played a rollicking number that had Paul doing the Mick Jagger rooster-move across the stage and jumping on a floor speaker to dance. They played a nice mix of covers and originals, ending the night with an encore (of course) of Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness,” which they ended three times, playing it faster each time. Then, as dramatically as he entered, St. Paul exited the stage while the band played on, and ended the show. I was blown away, and I considered going to the restroom to check and see if my hair had parted on its own. No joke.
What a fantastic show; I can’t wait to see where this group goes. Until they come back to Nashville, or to wherever you happen to be, you can probably catch them live or online tearing up the festivals this spring and summer, at South By Southwest, the Beale Street Music Festival, Wakarusa in Arkansas, and at Bonnaroo.