While San Francisco always finds a good reason to party, most people don’t think of Tuesday night as the prime time to do it. The Suffers, a 10-piece feel-good ensemble from Houston, TX, might have just changed that with their blistering set at Slim’s on Tuesday. They’re pioneering a sound they call “Gulf Coast Soul”, an eclectic combination of influences including (you ready??) old-school American soul, rock-n-roll, blues, Caribbean & Cajun styles, and even a dash of hip-hop. After their first-ever SF show back in February at Amnesia, the band has gained a lot of momentum (and a lot of followers), with coverage in multiple national outlets, and a highly-coveted appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
While politely enjoying themselves, the unsuspecting audience was a little shy during opening band Los Hot Boxers, reluctant to get too close to the stage. Once The Suffers took the stage, that all changed. As the curtain lifted, the band formed a tight inward-facing circle, arms raised to the ceiling, yelling a loud and lengthy “AAAHHHHHHH!!!!” in unison to get pumped for the blast of body-rocking, booty-shaking boogie they were about to bestow upon us. From the moment they spun around and kicked into opening track “Make Some Room” (from the recently released EP of the same name), the entire band was animated and on FIRE. Vocalist Kam Franklin’s soaring pipes punctuated the horn section (led by Jon, Razo, and Cory) and rhythm section (Nick and Chapy) with aplomb, embellishing the soulful grooves with passion. How you gonna not love a soul band with dudes named Razo and Chapy??
The Suffers – “Make Some Room”
Before the next track, Kam floated a deep philosophical question. “You guys wanna sandwich??” The implication was clear. Not satisfied with our lukewarm response, she asked again- “When a woman asks if you wanna sandwich, you don’t respond with silence. That’s when you stop getting sandwiches. Let me ask you again.” Sure, we laughed, but this time everybody definitely wanted a freaking sandwich. Needless to say, everyone’s bodies pressed a little closer together from this point on. This was a good warm up for her call-and-response reminder later: “what’s the name of the band??” (THE SUFFERS!!) and “where are we from??” (HOUSTON!!)… Kam’s previous history as a hip-hop MC was clear as she engaged and commanded the crowd like a true professional, and had a ton of fun doing it.
Smack in the middle of the set was a medley that felt like a history lesson on the band’s influences. Beginning with a cover of fellow Texan Selena’s celebratory “Baila Esta Cumbia”, we were then led through a couple Suffers originals intertwined perfectly with a lively version of OutKast’s percussive “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”… yes, the one with the super smooth bassline and badass staccato horns. So sick. Bookended by Alton Ellis’ reggae classic “I’m Still in Love with You Girl”, the set had the previously reserved crowd fully loosened up and grooving across the dancefloor. Bongos, trumpet, trombone, sax, they’re all there- adding a layer of soulful color to the traditional guitar/bass/drums rock band setup. Nobody was standing still anymore.
“This next song is the one we played on Letterman, and I don’t think he knew what it was about… but I hope he did. It’s called ‘Gwan’ and it’s about wrapping it up, cause you gotta keep it safe” Kam says before launching into a galloping, urgent track about… well, you figure it out. It’s important.
The Suffers – “Gwan” (Live from The Tonight Show with David Letterman)
The crowd wasn’t having the band’s first exit from the stage, and coerced them back for an encore. Nobody likes to go home lonely, and after a set like that, nobody did.
This band possesses such a fiery eclecticism that I caution against comparisons, but fine. If you like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Alabama Shakes, or even Bob Marley and OutKast, you should find something to love about The Suffers. Especially live. If you’re not shaking your ass through the whole set, you should probably check your pulse.
You can check out The Suffers on tour and purchase their Make Some Room EP here.
Photos by Joe Keefe and Dace Hines