There’s something about a sultry voice mixed with the rock ‘n’ roll twang of a midwestern gal and Northeasterner that just gets me. Maybe it’s the tongue-in-cheek lyrics in “Turn That Finger Around” or heart-on-sleeve kind of sweetness felt in “Yours to Bear,” honeyhoney, now with ten years of musicianship under their belt, knows how to put on a show.
But it didn’t come easy. The duo, headed by soulful, smoky-voiced multi-instrumentalist and actress Suzanne Santo (who played her banjo, violin and guitar all equally during the performance) and one-man-band Benjamin Jaffe took along tour drummer Conor Meehan for the ride. And if their performance at The Independent in San Francisco last Thursday night was any indication of their musicianship, their banter and undeniably charming chemistry were just the cherries on top of a memorable night.
The band is on the release of their third studio album 3, released just one year ago through Rounder Records and a shift in management. Their 2008 debut album First Rodeo was released under Ironworks (now defunct) while Billy Jack, their 2011 folk gem, was released under Lost Highway, the (also now defunct) alt-country branch of Universal. With 3, it seems as if this duo’s time is right.
As aging hipsters, impressionable young men and mother-daughters all flooded the room, Santo took the stage in her all-black getup, complete with skin-tight jeans, heeled boots, a free-flowing top and wide-brimmed hat.
“Looking sexy Suzanne!” a voice in the room shouted.
Jaffe, with his thick-rimmed glasses, loosely-fluffed brown locks and sparkly smile wielded his guitar as Meehan picked up his sticks and took a seat at the drum kit.
An odd track played in-house, seeming as if it came from outer space. It encouraged the audience to relax, close your eyes and take your s**t out the door as you let the music take over you.
A bit goofy but entirely entertaining, it put the audience in the mood for the duo’s hard-rocking, rock ‘n’ roll folk ballads and moody tunes.
There were times I glanced over at the men towards the front of the stage, staring with lovestruck eyes at the sultry Santo who played her guitar and banjo with effortless ease as she offered up sensual phrases like, “I want whiskey when I’m sick / And a man when I’m well / But it’s nice to have them both sometimes / When I feel like raising hell.”
Equally, a mother-daughter duo in front of me grooved out to the band with such carefree ease, I had to take a step back to give them space as I listened to Jaffe offer up his warm vocals and textured guitar riffs against Santo’s powerful folky croons.
The crowd was incredibly supportive, eagerly listening to the band and swaying when encouraged.
At one point, Santo mentioned, “You guys are so sweet and attentive,” mentioning how good the feeling in the room was and how they’ve come a long way from playing empty shows to quiet audiences.
But it isn’t just their genuine remarks or stories of love, loss and everything in-between that won me over.
The chemistry between Santo and Jaffe — platonic or not — was incredibly infectious. At numerous points in the show, Santo would belt out a couple of notes or take a long pause as Jaffe would look intently into Santo’s eyes — the kind of look you’d only see lovers give. She’d laugh and smile and command the room with charismatic confidence. And as the two played off each other, there was a sense of complete joy and comfort coming off the two.
They’re the type of people who you’d wanna hang out with — who know who they are, own it and could sling a couple whiskeys down with you as they sang about belly aches and heartaches.
Santo’s magnetic personality and boy-girl star-power truly is the breadwinner of this group. The lush lyrics, raw talent and multi-genre alt-country rock feel is enough to bring them their deserved success. But if the music is testament to the relationship the two have built — and their maturity to share that — then they’ve got something good going on. It’s always a little inspiring to see songwriters wear their most intimate parts of their hearts on their sleeves.
Watch my recordings of their live performance in the videos below:
Also, be kind, support good music and give the band some love at: