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The Suffers bring ‘Gulf Coast Soul’ back to The Southern

The band returns to venue after releasing their sophomore album

<p>Seven months after releasing “Everything Here,” The Suffers made a triumphant return to The Southern Feb. 21.</p>

Seven months after releasing “Everything Here,” The Suffers made a triumphant return to The Southern Feb. 21.

The Suffers’ sophomore album “Everything Here” — released July 13, 2018 — found the Houston-based band implementing spoken word segments and musical features for the first time. Once a band whose recordings translated seamlessly to live performance, The Suffers have now complicated live renditions of the album by embracing the accouterments of the recording studio — producers, a string section and a range of other collaborators.

At The Southern Café and Music Hall Feb. 21, the band settled on one prerecorded element — the spoken-word “Intro (A Headnod to Houston)” featuring Houston rapper Paul Wall — and omitted the other spoken word tracks, “Charlotte Intermission,” “A Word From Our Mammas” and “Bernard’s Interlude.” The band also chose to omit the singing children element in their performance of “Do Whatever,” and they likewise excluded soul singer Lyle Divinsky’s feature and the spoken word outro from their performance of “After the Storm.” 

These omissions, however, did not diminish the prominence of the sophomore album in the setlist. The band still performed “Do Whatever” and “After the Storm” without their prerecorded elements, and aside from “Peanuts,” “Giver,” “Make Some Room” and a cover of rocksteady artist Alton Ellis’ “I’m Still in Love,” The Suffers played entirely songs from “Everything Here.”

This is a striking evolution for a band whose first moment of national prominence came with a 2015 performance of “Gwan,” an upbeat track from their first album, on CBS’s “The Late Show with David Letterman.” The Suffers did not perform this breakout song during their appearance, demonstrating the reliability of the tracks from their sophomore effort. Lead vocalist Kam Franklin has said the band tries “to incorporate recognizable stuff,” so the dominance of “Everything Here” in the setlist suggests the album has propelled The Suffers to new levels of recognition.

The absence of “Gwan” may in part have been due to a belated change in the setlist. At the concert, Franklin announced that a member of the audience had contacted her and requested a performance of “Peanuts,” which Franklin admitted would be the first such performance on the band’s current tour. Although “Peanuts” is slightly slower than “Gwan,” the two tracks are functionally interchangeable in a concert prioritizing later work.

Always a phenomenal singer, Franklin sounds more expansive live, freed from the constraints of digital audio compression. In a particularly stunning moment, she added a lilting falsetto riff to the end of “After the Storm,” and the band’s penultimate song — the sultry “Giver” — showcased Franklin’s impressive range. Her spunky vocalizations combine the breathiness of Adele with the drama of rock singer Meat Loaf, although Franklin herself cites other legendary singers as influences, including Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Selena.

The concert at The Southern proved Franklin can imbue even the mundane with meaning. In the bizarrely placed closer “Make Some Room,” Franklin managed to sell the frivolous line, “Do you want a sandwich?” with the pithy statement that whatever someone disputes within a relationship, it is not “more important than a sandwich.”

Earlier, in “You Only Call” — the most repetitive song in the band’s catalogue — Franklin led each half of the audience, alongside backing vocalists Pat Kelly and Nick Zamora, in separate chants of “you only call” and “call, when you need something.” The combined lyric, which contains every word of the song, was one of several Franklin universalized with her between-song banter.

When introducing “You Only Call,” Franklin said most people have an opportunistic friend who — yes — only calls when they need something. Intentionally or not, the song forms something of a companion piece to The Beatles’ similarly repetitive “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” which positions itself on the opposite end of the same aloofness, more flippant and less needy.

The Suffers represent an amalgam of genres — R&B, funk, rocksteady and reggae — which they term “Gulf Coast Soul.” With an opening act by Canadian singer-songwriter Jeremie Albino, the concert also included folk. This was Albino’s second of three planned dates opening for the band and succeeds an initial performance in Pittsburgh. At The Southern, the singer-songwriter performed a handful of unreleased songs, with one, the acoustic “Shipwreck,” released the following day. There was a nervousness to Albino’s onstage banter, but his vocals recalled the phrasing of blues legend Robert Johnson, and his compositions took cues from folk legend Woody Guthrie.

This was a concert of eclectic music and inspired performances. If all goes well, The Suffers and Albino will return to Charlottesville in weather that is not, in the words of Franklin, “really s—ty.”