Suzanne Santo, also known as one half of honeyhoney, kicks off her summertime solo tour at Schubas in Chicago.

On Wednesday evening, in the close summertime heat of Chicago, a Kimono-clad Suzanne Santo stepped onto the stage at Schubas.  Two songs into her set, she lamented that maybe it was the wrong wardrobe choice given the hot weather. It was, however, her only misstep on the opening night of her Midwest tour.

National Rock Review caught up with Santo last October after she had just finished up a tour supporting Willie Watson.  She followed up that tour with a short run opening for The White Buffalo and was excited to talk about her upcoming tour of the West Coast and the North West.  That tour happened in January of this year and she put together a band made up of Blaine Stark on guitar and Paul Doyle on drums to take on the road. Both were also present for this tour with the addition of Izzi Ray on keyboards and backing vocals.

As the band broke into “Handshake” it set the scene for what was to be a superb dark, moody and on occasion, flat-out rocking set.  

It’s truly impressive to see the different sides of Santo at her live shows.  There’s the side that easily banters with the audience, loves dad jokes and thanks everyone for coming out on Handmaid’s Tale night, and then there’s the side that emerges once a song begins.  The second side sees her lay herself emotionally bare in front of the audience and perform with an intensity that cannot fail to move you.

Ruby Red has been variously described as a dark, moody, sexy album and while it is all those things, its most striking characteristic is its honesty.  During her interview with National Rock Review, Santo spoke about the fact that she was going through a tough spot in her life at the time and found the writing process very cathartic.  Whilst there are many albums and songs documenting break-ups, few songwriters are willing to dedicate so much time holding the magnifying glass to their own perceived shortcomings and part in the events. “Best Out Of Me”, three songs in, is a standout on the album and on the night. It sees Santo searching for reasons for her behavior and lamenting: “I see it in my family tree yes I do, all those murderous words that’ll cut you in two, and I don’t want it in me, that haunted history, that bruises the fruit black and blue”.  This willingness to openly share the kind of thoughts that would normally be written in your diary and stashed under the bed takes a huge amount of bravery but also builds an undeniable bond with your listeners.    

“The Wrong Man”, five songs into the set gets the audience moving around with Paul Doyle’s booming kick drum feeling like it’s beating in your chest.  Indeed, throughout the set, the band do a fantastic job of creating a solid and evocative platform that perfectly complements Santo’s powerhouse vocals. Stark is on double duty, adding some bass with pedals at his feet whilst simultaneously creating some dark and dreamy soundscapes with his guitar. Izzi Ray adds keys and some great backup vocals and the impressive Doyle drums with real intensity and looks like he is enjoying every second of the set.

Santo switches between guitar and fiddle throughout the night and in the middle of the set the band leave the stage for her to play a couple of honeyhoney favorites: “Burned Me Out” and “Yours To Bear” along with a great Cover of Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love To Rose“.

As the set nears a close, a show-stopping version of “Blood On Your Knees” showcases both Santo’s voice and fiddle playing at their best.  The fire with which she plays her fiddle solo on this track is reminiscent of the way Neil Young plays a guitar solo (both look as though they are literally trying to tear the feeling and emotion out from inside their instruments). It’s no surprise that Suzanne mentions she has a new fiddle for this run of shows because, based on this showing, the old one must have taken a beating on the January tour!

As the final notes of a well-earned encore fade into the night, the band look rightfully happy with their evening’s work and nobody in the audience can have been in any doubt that they had just seen a special show.

With Santo mentioning that she will be taking part in other projects and writing for a new album this year, this tour may be the last chance you get to see her on a headlining tour for a while.  Whilst there is no doubt that people who have seen her before will be heading to the remaining shows, those of you who haven’t should make a date to spend a night in the company of her and her band. You will not be disappointed…..

Words by: Phil Walton
Photos by: Kirstine Walton 

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Suzanne Santo
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Leah James
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Event Date: 13-JUN-2018