The Suffers, Chase Hamblin and the Roustabouts Discovery Green June 20, 2013
If there's a better spot to catch a concert in June than the grassy slope of Discovery Green, brother, that spot ain't in Houston. If you thought that braving the heat to check out some live music beneath the city's skyline was a good time during Free Press Summer Festival, try relaxing in the very shadow of those skyscrapers and listening to great local tunes on a finely manicured lawn... for free.
That unparalleled experience is quickly making the Discovery Green Thursday Concerts series, sponsored by UH-Downtown, a local institution. While our city's summers are often (rightly) deplored as sweaty, sticky trials of endurance, an evening outdoors in the park goes a long way to prove that maybe the whole "Don't go outside until October!" thing is a tad overblown.
Thursday night, the stage was shared by a couple of FPSF 2013 veterans in the Suffers and Chase Hamblin and the Roustabouts, returned to downtown for an altogether breezier, more low-key affair. When Chase and the gang hit the stage first at 6:30 p.m. on the dot, it was still plenty warm on the hill, but a glorious breeze picked up as the sun sank behind One Park Place. Mighty pleasant, indeed.
Hamblin and friends opened up with a suite of songs from their latest album, VAUdeVILLE, including the '60s pop of "I've Got a Brain" and the big-tent revival sound of "One More Hour," featuring the groovy organ playing of Jeremy Nuncio. The keyboardist was undoubtedly the Roustabouts' secret weapon, deploying classic psych sounds on easygoing tunes such as "Never Let You Go" as concert-goers settled into lawn chairs and beach blankets on the hill.
As the band pumped out their signature blend acid-tinged pop, gospel and honky-tonk, I climbed to the top of the slope to take in a wider view. As the sun receded, the park quickly became possibly the most picturesque music venue in town, with jagged glass mishmash of downtown serving as a cavernous backdrop to the stage.
Hamblin and crew delivered a slew of lovely little originals that seemed to be enjoyed by young and old alike in attendance. My favorite song of the set, however, was their prowling, surprisingly muscular cover of T. Rex's "20th Century Boy." The song sounded hard and tight, in a style I'd like to hear more of from these guys.
If the Roustabouts put the audience into a state of deep, breezy relaxation, the Suffers arrived ready to up the amplitude on the evening's good vibes until everyone in the park reached a harmonious wavelength. A smiling contingent of the band's fans -- many wearing Suffers shirts they likely nabbed at FPSF -- led the way, crowded up against the stage and dancing with abandon.
Further up the hill, small children ran around and played while the grown folks sipped a cold beer or two and enjoyed the weather. I missed the band's set at Eleanor Tinsley Park last month, so I was particularly keen to hear some of their newer cuts. The Suffers obliged early, offering up an upbeat, slinky track called "Slow it Down" as well as the soulful R&B grind of "Midtown," among others. They were my favorite songs of the set.
Plenty of ink has already been spilled by Rocks Off on the smooth vocals and dynamic stage presence of Suffers front woman Kam Franklin. If you haven't checked her and the boys out yet, do yourself a favor. On Thursday, she kept those hips and arms in motion, inviting a growing crowd to get up close and move along with her.
"If you're afraid to dance by yourself, please don't be," she told the audience. "There's magic happening up here."
The band kept the party going with a few gently rasta-fied covers, including Martha and the Vandellas' "Heat Wave," Bad Manners' "Sally Brown" and the Marvelettes "Please Mr. Postman." The most fun of the lot, though, was their cooing version of Bobby Brown's "Every Little Step." Lord knows cover songs can get tedious quick, but the Suffers made each of the borrowed tunes their own, thanks in large part to that splendid rhythm section.
By the time they broke into the bouncy little number "Make Some Room," the evening could scarcely have been nicer. For once, live music outdoors in Houston was nothing to sweat over, even for families.
"We're so happy to finally play here," Franklin said. "Last year we couldn't do it because of the rain. It's been a really, really beautiful night."
You said it, girl.
Personal Bias: No smoking in the park? Bah.
The Crowd: A nice, diverse mix of ages and ethnicities with widely varying familiarity with the acts.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Are they really going to set those chairs up right in front of us?!"
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Random Notebook Dump: Nothing unites a band and an audience in mutual ecstasy like a fine summer breeze, I tell ya.