Sofar Houston (Songs From A Room) The Suffers, The Caldwell, Arthur Yoria Secret Location August 23, 2013
The premise is intriguing and creative: hold an exclusive, invitation only concert in a non-traditional venue (like a living room), without charging a cover at the door, specify BYOB, and accept donations for each band after their individual performance. Oh, and the only "rule" asks you to refrain from talking during each band's set.
Sounds like heaven, amirite?!
According to the organizers, Songs From A Room (Sofar) began in London sometime in 2011. Incarnations of the concert series occur around the world, with Houston having hosted eight previous editions, Friday night being the ninth. The series is entirely volunteer driven, from promotion to production.
The excitement lies in the delivery. The bands are never announced beforehand, so every night is a mystery. Three bands play along, including two short opening sets and a longer headlining set. The bands play their best stuff in order to win new fans, all in the name of great music.
As we arrive to the secret location Friday evening, we are greeted by a lovely young woman named Heather, the director of the Houston chapter of Sofar. She welcomes my date and I, and smiles when she finds out we are Sofar virgins. "You are in for a real treat!" she proclaims.
The location tonight is the inside of a retail space near Westheimer and Shepherd, which is a bit bigger than the usual living room setup previously used by Sofar. A drum kit and several amps are set up in the front of the room, and a mini-bar is available to the side. The lights are dim and the room is softly humming with twenty or so music fans, ready for the night's entertainment. Another twenty will stream in before the night is over.
The first performer is guitarist Arthur Yoria, a folksy guitar and harmonica act with soft yet determined eyes. Originally from Chicago, Arthur spent his summers in his parent's home in South America, Colombia to be exact. He tells me after the show that he toured extensively for ten years before taking a break, but has recently started back up with his music.
His first song is interesting, just your usual Americana offering, guitar filling the room and harmonica riding above the invisible layer of breath and body heat. His second song is something completely different and more mysterious. He sings in Spanish, and we are all mesmerized. I like this much better than his first and third song, and I suspect I'm one of the few who understand the lyrics. He somehow even hums in Spanish, if that is at all possible.
"I'd like to play more, but I need to go to work now" he proclaims. We all applaud, and a fishbowl is passed around for tips. We drop in a few bucks and thank him for the show, hoping to hear more from him sometime soon.
Up next are a relatively new band named The Caldwell. They are asked to play something during soundcheck to establish all the sound levels, and they choose The Clash's version of "I Fought The Law (And The Law Won)". Fun stuff.
Once they get going, their sound is similar to The Killers or The Strokes, straightforward modern rock with a tinge of mischievousness and a lot of loud. One thing is certain, their energy is infectious. The second song is called "Not This Time", and it is strong and haunting. "Our last song hits hard, so look out for that" warns the lead singer. Overall, the vocals need a bit of fine tuning, but the band has much potential. Indeed, it is very exciting to hear this band, and we look out for them around Houston.
Review continues on the next page.
The headlining act is none other than multiple Houston Press Music Award winners The Suffers, who in their short lifespan have risen to the top of the city's totem pole, and is perhaps the best band in H-Town. Every show they play is something of a religious experience, filled with soul and love, magical, playful, and intense.
They are also asked by the sound guy to play something for soundcheck, and they choose "I'm Still In Love" by Alton Ellis. The bass line provided by Adam Castañeda is enough to get the crowd grooving.
They open with their standard opener "Gwan", with the esteemed conga powers of percussionist Jose "Chapy" Luna setting the mood. The band then leads us into their newest songs "Slow It Down" and "Step Aside", which I've had on repeat on my Spotify playlist since it was released back in early June. They call themselves "just a few guys (and a gal) having a good time playing the music they love". Nothing could be more perfect as that description. The smile on their faces as they play and sing lights up the darkened room, filling the space with gorgeous notes from the horns and sweet vibrations from Pat Kelly's keys and organ.
The fun track "Good Day" follows, and the crowd bounces along with Kam Franklin's vocals and dance moves. "Midtown" is more rock than the other tracks, with hints of Chicago or Carlos Santana Band thrown in for fun. The crescendo at the bridge of the song is something fierce, leaving the listener (myself) making an almost warrior face, then dropping all the way low for the guitar ending. Definitely a fun, roller coaster ride of a song.
"Make Some Room" is by far my favorite track, with lyrics of making sandwiches and micheladas (and making love) winning me over every time. Besides, the song is damn near perfect, with soulful pleading and enough emotion to make even the stiffest audience member dance. "Can't you see! We could be!" I sing along as I dance and hold hands with my date. As much as I've enjoyed this band solo in the two years I've covered them, having a lady by my side makes their songs exponentially more poignant and moving.
The set ends with "Giver", a gospel-esque offering that is too beautiful for words. The night ends, but the room wants more. The band encores with "No, No, No" by Dawn Penn.
Is there a better band in Houston than The Suffers?
No, No No.
Personal Bias: Any chance to see The Suffers in action is an opportunity to experience greatness.
The Crowd: Small, private, BYOB gathering of hipsters.
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Overheard In the Crowd: "Its like a blind date, but with new bands instead of some creeper."
Random Notebook Dump: Introducing people (my date in this case) to new local music is probably the favorite aspect of my job.
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