It's been a long time coming for the Tontons and the Suffers, two of the most highly touted groups to come out of Houston in the past few years, but Friday night's show at Warehouse Live may have been a jumping-off point.
Opening for Lee Fields and the Expressions for the Red Bull "Sound Select" program, Warehouse Live reached capacity just after 9 p.m. as the Tontons were beginning their set. By the time the Suffers took the stage, navigating from the middle of the crowd to the bar had become a chore.
Those in attendance who failed to RSVP found themselves pressed up alongside the outside wall as they braced against the bitter Houston wind, hoping for a way in. ("Cold" is, of course, relative for us Houstonians.)
Persons who were fortunate enough to make it inside, meanwhile, enjoyed a lively performance by two local heavy-hitters that set the tone for the 63-year-old Fields, lovingly dubbed the Little James Brown, whose nostalgic cuts and funky beats further solidified the ongoing "vintage soul" revival we've been enjoying.
Flanked by the Expressions, Fields showcased an airtight, high-energy set full of dance-friendly cuts. It kept fans moving their hips and feet all night, despite my damnedest attempts to keep still. How much fun Fields was having onstage was evident, and those grooving along in the crowd relayed that sentiment back to him.
His voice, his style and his command of the stage of the stage reinforced his nickname, as if we'd all traveled back to the '50s or '60s and were hearing it live for the first time.
Fields' performance was prefaced and arguably outdone by the new face of Houston soul, the Suffers, and the longstanding indie fixtures the Tontons. Unfortunately, the ever-perilous traffic on Intestate 45 kept this reviewer from seeing the Tontons' performance firsthand, but a number of concertgoers informed me that, as always, they put on a strong showing.
Little JB may have been the headliner, but Friday night was arguably a local show. Almost unbelievably, the crowd actually thinned out after the Suffers wrapped up their set, which was arguably the best one of theirs I've ever seen. The group seems to get better with every performance, and this one even featured an appearance by Fat Tony.
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Much like Fields and the Expressions, the Suffers genuinely enjoy what they do. Not only is their music heartfelt, funky and easy on the ears, it also possesses an authenticity that cannot be feigned. Vocalist Kam Franklin, the brass section, the percussionists and everyone involved bring their A-game every damn time with broad smiles broadcast across their faces.
I'm not sure how the "Sound Select" program works or how it looked in any other cities, but Friday night was clearly a success for all Houstonians involved. Here's hoping it translates into some success for these two local acts, both of whom are hometown favorites, because it clearly brought on a good time for everyone in attendance and onstage, including Little JB himself.
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