Susanna Hoffs is the coolest.
Having sung hits with The Bangles all the livelong ‘80s, Hoffs has a melodious voice, a decades-long career as a guitarist and songwriter, and a singular sense of style that makes her stand out as a performer. She has a sense of humor, too. They don’t invite just any musician to perform at the annual comedy festival SF Sketchfest, after all. “Susanna is one of those musicians who understands humor and fits in well with comedians,” said David Owen, co-founder of the festival.
In recent years, Hoffs has played shows at Largo at the Coronet, a music and comedy venue in Los Angeles. In her performances, she incorporates Bangles must-haves, a selection of cover songs, and her solo work. She has performed at Largo with Belinda Carlisle, Aimee Mann, Zach Galifianakis and Maya Rudolph.
“We present many of the shows that Los Angelenos get to see at the great venue Largo,” Owen said. “Susanna Hoffs, who is coming to SF Sketchfest for the first time, is part of that tradition. We are fans of Susanna’s music with The Bangles and her solo music, and we’ve been aware that she’s been doing these low-key and fun shows with other musicians and comedians in LA.”
Susanna Hoffs and Friends will perform at 7:30 pm January 15 at the Swedish American Hall as part of the annual festival. “Susanna is doing an evening of music and comedy with special guests,” Owen said. “Musical guests include Petra Haden, Chris Price, and Tamara Yajia, and there’s a special surprise comedian showing up as well.”
Sketchfest hosts headliners and up-and-comers for a month of sketch, improv, stand-up and alternative comedy. It is known for diverse programming that features comedic performances, panel discussions, and tributes.
Hoffs studied art, theater, and dance at UC Berkeley. After graduating, she returned to Los Angeles and placed an ad in The Recycler. Sisters Vicki Peterson and Debbi Peterson responded, and in December 1980 they met in Hoffs’ parents’ garage and became a band instantly upon that first rehearsal.
The Bangles signed with Columbia Records in 1983 and had a series of hits like “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Manic Monday,” and “Hazy Shade of Winter.” They broke up in 1989, but continued to tour over the years. They regrouped to release albums Doll Revolution in 2003 and Sweetheart of the Sun in 2011.
Meanwhile, Hoffs fostered a solo career. She released two solo albums in the 1990s and a third called Someday in 2012. She worked with notable collaborators along the way, including Jon Brion, Mick Fleetwood, John Entwistle, and Matthew Sweet.
Sweet and Hoffs were in the faux band Ming Tea, created for the Austin Powers film triology. They also formed the duo Sid n' Susie in 2006, and released three volumes of Under the Covers, which feature cover songs from over the decades.
Hoffs has also performed as part of Portlandia Live with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, and she continues doing shows in intimate settings that result in rave reviews. Her “voice hasn’t lost a smidgeon of power over time...containing both a playful exuberance and sophisticated subtlety,” one reviewer wrote.
“One thing we’ve discovered over the years is that not every moment at SF Sketchfest needs to be funny,” Owen said. “Sometimes it’s OK to take a break from the humor and hear a song that might move an audience in other ways.”
This is good news for those who attend Hoffs’ Sketchfest show. Her live rendition of "Eternal Flame" is more sentimental than funny — she often performs it stripped-down, with acoustic guitars, and it is rumored to steal the show. “The number has clearly stood the test of time, as the singer performed it with heart and soul,” according to another review.
“When I’m singing ‘Eternal Flame’ and I’m looking out at the crowd, people are almost ecstatic,” Hoffs has said. “They’re hugging each other. It’s so emotional. People are crying, people are laughing, people are kissing. It’s just great.”
Susanna Hoffs and Friends
Swedish American Hall
January 15, 2017
7:30pm, $30 (21+)