The Suffers deliver ambitious, invigorating ‘big band’ soul to Great American Music Hall

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“We’re not a conventional band,” announced frontwoman Kam Franklin right before moving into the initially refined but thunderous “I Think I Love You” — the first single off the Suffers’ upcoming album, Everything Here, releasing in July.

The standing room part of the Great American Music Hall was packed by the time that Franklin’s silhouette emerged, flanked by the rest of the band as the dimmed lights brightened. Standing center stage, Franklin did exactly what this group has been known to do and did away with all expectations — or at least the expectations of those who have never seen the Suffers play live before.

It was a Sunday night, but the venue was immediately shaking and grooving along with the excited eight-piece group on stage.

Right after finishing the first song, the band paused so that Franklin could deliver a speech about “doing whatever you want in your adult life” and asking audience members to “get weird and funky” on the dance floor. She then moved into “Do Whatever,” a track Franklin said will be on their new album.

Audience members were easily receptive to Franklin’s requests, especially when she unexpectedly covered “Baila Esta Cumbia” by Selena and “Shout” by the Isley Brothers.

All the cards were in place for Franklin to be the only band member dominating the stage, with her gorgeous, booming vocals and natural ability to rile up a venue. But Jon Durbin and Michael Razo, on the trumpet and trombone respectively, also frequently caught the audience’s attention with feel-good, intermittent solos and cute, coordinated dance moves.

Their part-reggae, part-R&B sound isn’t complete without the other five members, of course, all of whom performed just as consistently throughout the night. As an eight-person ensemble, their songs wouldn’t be nearly as impactful without Jose Luna on percussion and Nick Zamora on drums, both of whom contribute vital components of the band’s caribbean influences.

A night with the Suffers entails more than just a set of its music, played back to back with a few pauses in between to rile up the crowd with cliches tailored to whatever city is listening in. Franklin’s long intermissions, during which she delivered jokes, anecdotes and wise life advice, made it clear that this is a group devoted a performance art that goes beyond just delivering their music.

The Suffers are proud of where they come from, made clear in Franklin’s insistence that the two rules of attending the group’s concert are to remember both the band’s name and its origins in Houston, Texas. She repeated that three times throughout the night, intent on quizzing the audience to ensure all were listening.

Interestingly, the audience was mostly made of returning fans. Around the venue were a few floating vinyls held up in appreciation. And, when Franklin asked if anyone had seen the band play live before, a loud cheer affirmed how many returners were present.

But in all honesty, playing one of the Suffers’ records doesn’t do the band justice. It’s when all eight members are grinning and sweating and moving along with the beat of the music that the full potential of the small-scale “big band” emerges in earnest.

That their music translates much better to the live stage than it does to the recording studio isn’t altogether unusual. The Suffers are an ambitious project, treading on the territory of multiple genres and meshing them together to create a take on music that they have defined as “Gulf Coast Soul.”

It takes some time to become accustomed to the band’s incredibly full sound, one that pulls its inspiration from so many places. Once that step is completed, however, the only option seems to be to fall head first into it, dancing and singing along the entire time.

Contact Alex Jiménez at [email protected].