Congas rattling your bones, horns blaring, keys tingling your limbs, guitars yanking at your heart strings and a powerhouse voice sending chills through your body… That is The Suffers, a 10-piece ensemble from Houston Texas. They are a group of talented musicians that quit their jobs one year ago to follow a passion that many said was not feasible or possible. But somehow they have found a way to piece together a complicated puzzle of reggae, soul, ska, hip-hop and rock into an symbiotic blend that results in sonic fire.
They start each set the same; stepping on stage they turn to one another and with arms raised and count from 1 to 10 with a long boisterous shout. They’ve done this at every performance: David Letterman, The Daily Show, Tiny Desk, etc. It’s even the cover of their debut self-titled full length album. So it was no surprise when they took the stage at the historic Wiltern Theater this weekend that they began with their signature “game day” shout before they turned to the audience and performed.
Out of the gates they got the crowd grooving to their single “Make Some Room,” which is a sweet song about the beginning of a love affair and all the potential it could be. With a chugging reggae beat driving the song and fun (although quirky) lyrics. “Let me cook for you baby/just relax because I’m cleaning too/I love you like I’ve known you forever.” It got the crowd warmed up, but not everyone was quite sure of what to make of the band. When lead singer Kam Franklin narrowed in on a guy in the front row and sang, “Do you want a sandwich?” He stood perplexed with no reaction. Franklin looked out into the crowd and said, “How many of you have no idea what is going on here?” A laugh erupted and a few people raised their hands. She explained that there are two things they need to know about the band; first, that their name is The Suffers and second that they are from Houston Texas. Franklin then explained it’s rude not to respond when a nice girl asks if you want a sandwich. And so she says we are going to try this again. This time she belted out, “do you want a sandwich?” And, this time the once stoic man and the entire crowd shouted, “YES!”
It’s no surprise that Franklin and the band were able to so easily charm the crowd. The Suffers have been on fire! They have exploded on the music scene over the last year with a national tour, a jaw dropping performance at Newport Folk Festival and one of the last acts to grace the Letterman stage. Their fan base has grown so strong and committed that they were able to fully fund and self release their debut album from a Kick Starter campaign.That’s really saying something about the chord that this band is hitting with people. I think it’s the way that they mix the familiar sounds of reggae and soul into a fresh and passionate modern blend. Plus horns. Who doesn’t get chills when they hear brass ripping through the air? The answer is a robot.
The perfect example of this is when they performed “Gwan.” This song was written for moving. Even Franklin herself warned the crowd that they may have people bumping up all around them during the song. The congas roared throughout the song with an unbelievable solo that may have ended in bloody hands, he was moving and hitting so fast. In her white sequence dress and boots, Franklin stomped and then threw her head back and sang with such force I’m pretty sure the walls started to shake. From the top row of the balcony to the floor the audience moved in synch with the beat. I’m not sure how many people even had heard the song before and it didn’t matter because they were feeling the moment and dancing. And, that’s exactly the power of this band, their ability to tap into the innate need we all have for something that will awaken us and make us feel.
By the end of their set The Suffers had won over the entire crowd. People in the balcony were standing and screaming their love. If you’ve been to enough L.A. shows you know how rare that is. There is no question that this band is unforgettable and firmly rooted in the memory banks of everyone in The Wiltern. We know they are The Suffers of Houston, Texas and yes, we’d like a sandwich.
Words & Photography: Anne Marie Schiefer