The Suffers, JMSN, Ishi
House of Blues
November 27, 2016
All of a sudden, I felt like I needed to be on a date.
The Suffers have that kind of hold on you. When you’re in their presence, you don't want to be selfish about it. You want to share it with somebody you love and respect. Somebody you immediately point to when saying, “Know who would be great to spend time with? This person.” That may be the greatest compliment in the world for a band that has twisted all the lazy comparisons of them into beautiful music.
Saturday night, Houston’s Gulf Coast Soul Band Hell-Bent On World Domination returned to House of Blues to headline a “For Friends” show. Dallas’ own spacial funkateers Ishi opened to rousing approval from the Houston crowd and JMSN played to his own tune by not necessarily reaching deep in his bag to blow people away. Both JMSN and Ishi knew what roles they played; they were the setup for Kam Franklin and company to tear it down for more than an hour.
When the lights dimmed and the opening two verses of UGK and OutKast’s “International Players Anthem” rang, the mostly mixed crowd of longtime Suffers fans and first-timers rattled off the lyrics syllable by syllable. Then when the curtains drew back, there were The Suffers, arms stretched in the air in the customary routine that they do before every performance. The crowd roared with Franklin extra wispy, almost ready to let her arms and joints do all the talking for her.
She spun around, and the horn section loaded up and launched into “Gwan." And for a little while, it didn’t necessarily matter what songs were hitting you left and right, only that you were there. The Suffers have this weird kinetic spell where they manage to tell a story about a song, piece together all the sentences and moments so that there’s no plot holes and then deliver. If Saturday night was a book, it was the culmination of a year of touring all over the country.
“We normally get told to play to a certain time,” Franklin told the crowd. “But tonight, we can play whatever we want.”
Whether it be old material such as the sexual and soothing “Giver” or new, aggressive cuts like “I Think I Love You,” the 10-piece band made certain that every note fluttered and found its way into your head. As Franklin continued narrating different paths of the band from introducing a crowd in Oregon to the style of cumbia or fetishizing OutKast's “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” for kids, the hometown faithful on the floor and in the balcony ate it up.
Two years ago, they quit their jobs to pursue the band full-time. One year ago, they were one of the final acts to play The Late Show with David Letterman. When people beg of Franklin and company to release new material, they’ve admitted hesitance to let it out. The “new lifestyle" they’ve adopted means they can no longer be afraid of risks, even when they’re talented enough to bend your ear on more than one occasion. The Suffers are more than 400 shows deep into their history now, each one more breathtakingly flawless and the one before it. If they want to play Selena, they’ll do it to a rousing ovation. If they want to toy with the Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” as a tribute to Rick James, they’ll do that too.
As the night drew to a bit of a close, long after people felt the alcohol run into their bloodstreams, Franklin spoke again. She had performed for her mother, the same woman who took her to see Al Green when she was a kid and they sat up in the balcony dancing the night away. Her spirit told her to say something about the year, about all of the tragedy, the loss, the wins and the lows.
“If you came with somebody tonight, hug then. If the person you came with here tonight made you a meal, I want you to tell them, ‘Thank you,”” she said. “People don't make food because they like you, they make food because they care for you.”
Almost on cue, she felt the weight hit the back of her throat. “And I'm really really looking forward to the end of this year. We've lost a lot of people. We've seen a lot of ugly behavior. My hope is 2017 won't be as bad as this year. Of all the people we loss this year, there's one I would like to acknowledge and that's Sharon Jones.”
Franklin tried her best not to cry over the recently departed leader of The Dap-Kings, a band The Suffers was routinely compared to solely because both leads were powerful black women. “I told her that it was my dream to get to where she was,” Franklin said, with a hitch in her voice. “She didn’t know me but she told me to stay encouraged and someone will notice. I just want to encourage you guys to say thank you to the people who inspire you. I want you to give flowers to people while they’re still alive, before their funerals.”
It led into “Make Some Room,”and a moment of outright healing.
After the show and Franklin having to hold back tears after her makeshift eulogy for Jones, she found herself mingling in the crowd. The Waxaholics had set up to make their own magic with an afterparty set. People flocked to her, the Zamora boys, and literally anyone who had just lit the stage on fire 15 minutes prior. Everyone smiled, everyone wanted a photo with Franklin, her large afro almost swallowing the faces behind her.
Everyone wanted a piece of the magic. Everyone wanted to feel that exact same joy they felt moments prior. The Suffers have had many a star making moment all over the country. Back home, they felt like the family member you continually raved to everybody about that had done good. And still found a way to surprise you too.
Personal Bias: I’m a mark for anything Kam Franklin.
So How Were the Openers?: I’ve been carrying the flag for JMSN for what seems like forever. “Alone” was a staple of a relationship I had in 2012, just as he was gaining steam for writing on Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city. He played mostly from his new album, It Is. while looking back a bit with “Street Sweeper” and “Fuck U”. I would have killed forthe Kaytranada assisted “All We Do” or even some Priscilla stuff like “Alone,” but I was satisfied.
Ishi? Ishi feels like that band you listen to consistently while on one powerful acid trip: Electro, eye-opening, dance-ready. Those are easy identifiers when trying to grasp what JT Mudd and company are trying to do onstage, but there’s a bit more to it. Remember that movie Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas and Hunter S. Thompson wigged out all over the place? That’s Mudd’s direction onstage. Sometimes he’ll grab a headdress and red robe and lord over the faithful with talkbox vocals and esoteric guitar work flanking him. In others he’ll slam-dance and groove harder than even your imagination said he would. Ishi are kindred spirits to The Suffers in that they’re talented, big and a group all their own.
The Crowd: Fun-loving, with nary a super-drunkard in sight.
Random Notebook Dump: I laughed when walking out of House of Blues, realizing the Waxaholics were about to flip the demographics of the venue upside down. Then I realized, nobody throws a better theme party in the city than those guys. And we are all the better for it.