The Suffers & Jakübi
10/2/16 at The Sinclair
Hype can be a nasty, double-edged sword; it can provide an artist or band free and easy press but, as Public Enemy once said, hype shouldn’t always be believed. If you’re a soul music fan, a connoisseur of up-and-coming talent, or have hung out with Northeastern University’s CAMD Director of Co-op, Craig Bettinson, for more than two minutes – then you know the hype around Houston-based band The Suffers. After hearing the band speak about their journey on campus for a CAMD event, I was lucky enough to see them live for the first time at The Sinclair.
Although I was only exposed to the band recently, it’s clear The Suffers are in the midst of a huge upswing. They were one of the final musical acts to perform on The Late Show with David Letterman and have been steadily climbing up various festival lineups, gaining tons of loyal fans thanks to their relentless touring and electrifying shows. Even with their debut, self-titled LP only being released earlier this year, every Suffers fan I’ve met speaks of the band with the undying reverence usually reserved for the Dylans or Springsteens of the world. After watching the band perform, I can say without a doubt that – thankfully – all the hype around the Suffers is undoubtedly and unmistakably true.
Before being blown away by the Suffers, I was also pleasantly surprised by the show’s opening act, Jakübi. Flying in all the way from their hometown of Melbourne, Australia, the band was clearly over the moon to be there, giving off an endearing “lads-having-fun” charm as they performed. Even while playfully shoving each other and cracking jokes onstage, the band’s playing was sharp and on-point, and their chemistry and easy-going vibe won over the audience in no time. With songs like “Couch Potato,” “Bank Account,” and “Telling Me to Change,” the band managed to find a nice blend of radio-ready alternative rock, frantic and spontaneous indie rock, and more laid-back soul jams – comparable to Twenty One Pilots, if they listened to more James Brown. While I thought the talkbox died in 1995, singer/keyboardist Jerome Farah showed off some super impressive skills without falling into cliché, so that alone was entertaining to watch. The tiny gripe I had was that some of the songs did hit a typical pop radio sound slightly hard for my taste. I’m all for gushy, harmless love songs and wordless, “woah-oh” choruses to a point, but after the fourth or fifth song in that style, the set started feeling a little repetitive. Even with that being said, Jakübi was still a ton of fun to watch and showed a lot of potential for mainstream popularity.
The opener definitely got people in the mood to dance with good vibes through the roof by the time the Suffers made their way to the stage. The band started with their opening “ritual” of sorts, all members striking a pose similar to their album cover, screaming as though they just won a marathon, and launching into the high-energy stomper “Gwan.” Those opening few minutes served as a preface for the rest of the show, followed by a night filled with excitement, solid grooves, and genuinely friendly people who all want to have a good time. Calling the Suffers’ music “revivalist” soul would not truly do it justice – and while I’m all for the old-fashioned – the band’s work is simply so much more than that. At one point during the night, singer Kam Franklin called their sound “Gulf Coast Soul,” emphasizing the diverse mix of cultures and genres that takes place in their hometown of Houston. It was the closest you could get to naming their unique style with songs like “Peanuts” and “Make Some Room” channeling some wonderfully vintage soul and R&B, while “Midtown” and the aforementioned “Gwan” showed off some rock tendencies. The band even took some unexpected forays into reggae with “Good Day” and Latin soul with a cover of “Bailes de Cumbia.” By successfully juggling so many different genres without coming off as imitation, the Suffers have given old-fashioned soul some much welcomed new life in manner that is genuine and of higher quality than almost any other band today.
It’s even crazier when you realize that the band’s only been around for the past five years when it sounds like they’ve been playing with each other for decades. Every groove the band laid out was tight and on-point, the solos were exciting and never too long, and even the chemistry between the members was fun to watch. Without a doubt, the group’s stage presence owed largely to Kam Franklin, her electrifying showmanship reeled the crowd in almost immediately and held their attention the whole night. Franklin’s expressions and dance moves as she belted out each track were a true testament to the phrase “dance like nobody’s watching,” showcasing a level of confidence and swagger only the best bandleaders can master.
But probably the best thing about the band, and the night in general, is how thankful they were to be playing music for their fans, both longtime supporters and excited newbies. It’s common to hear “thank you” and “glad to be here” thrown out but The Suffers actually took brief breaks in the set to stop and wholeheartedly say thanks. They talked about how far they’ve come as a band, how they started as a bunch of normal people with day jobs who one day said “fuck it” and took a risk, and how grateful they are to every person who has helped that risk pay off over the years. It was incredibly refreshing to see a group of artists so candid with their audience, and the positive message of taking risks and doing what you love in life definitely hit home for everyone listening. Throw that sense of modesty and gratitude on top of the fact that this band can play some damn good music, and I really can’t think of anyone more deserving of success than The Suffers. I haven’t had this much fun at a show in a while and can own up to being a Suffers convert – if you’ve never seen this band live, change that as soon as possible.