Let’s do something radical, shall we, and begin at the beginning, with the support band? (No scrolling down now, Samantha Fish fans!) Because it's worth emphasising that London’s Curse Of Lono are an imaginative outfit with a distinctive voice of their own.
With songs from front man Felix Bechtolsheimer, interesting arrangements, and strong musicianship all round, it strikes me that the Southern Gothic label that’s often attached to them doesn’t tell the whole story. After opener ‘Blackout Fever’, second song ‘London Rain’ shows off Doors-like keys from birthday boy Dani Ruiz Hernandez, impressive four-part harmonies, and a good sense of atmospherics. By the time they get to the end of ‘Way To
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And they’ve got more in their locker. Felix straps on a side drum for ‘Send In The Whisky’, with its droning guitar notes and vaguely folky chorus, while ‘I’d Start A War For You’ contrives something of a motorik vibe, with Joe Hazell producing a convincing synth impersonation on guitar. ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, with its offbeat shuffling rhythm and Hernandez playing a harmonium, comes across like the bastard offspring of Iggy’s ‘Lust For Life’ and Celtic rock. For their efforts they get, and deserve, a warm reception from tonight’s audience.
And so to the main event.
One of the pleasures of seeing multiple Samantha Fish shows is the variety she brings to her set – no recite-it-by-heart running order for her, no sirree. So tonight she and the band kick off by walloping into ‘Wild Heart’, on which she launches her slide solo with a shout of “Let’s go!” Then they’re straight into ‘You Can’t Go’, with the pedal pushed flat to the metal, Sam bringing a wild conviction to those “oh-oh baby” vocals, and a fiery solo to match.
After which it’s as probably as well for any patrons with a heart condition that she opts to cool things down with the torch song soul of ‘Hello Stranger’, which develops from meltingly
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They whack up the tempo again though, on ‘Highway’s Holding Me Now’, which is the cue for Fish’s first burst of power chord hair-flailing. Then it’s time to head in a Nashville direction for ‘Blame It On The Moon’, on which Phil Breen contributes Bruce Hornsby like piano intro and outro. And when Fish steps up her slide solo from a country-like lilt to full tilt, Breen is so into it that he can be seen emulating his boss’s penchant for head banging.
Breen, in fact, is a revelation tonight. It’s as if he’s thriving on additional responsibility coming his way in the four-piece format, not least on ‘Little Baby’, on which he lashes out vibrant honky tonk piano, while Chris Alexander throws himself bodily into breakneck bass runs, and Sam cranks out the kind of full-on twangery for which her Fender Jaguar was designed. It closes with a teasing guitar and drums exchange with Scotty Graves, then melts into the sparse and reflective ‘Blood On The Water’, resting heavily on harmonies with Alexander and Graves, and warm piano from Breen.
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She changes the Jaguar’s tuning at this point – or tries to. “Close enough,” she shrugs, in a tellingly relaxed manner. Playing to a sell out, all-standing room, feeding off a crowd that start off enthusiastic and crank it up from there, it’s like tonight the whole band are off the leash. And when she then picks her way through the opening bars of ‘Gone For Good’, it’s met with a roar of approval. With its rattling rhythm, a bonkers organ solo from Breen, and Fish not just letting rip on guitar but capturing the “screw you” dimension of the lyric, it’s a veritable barn-burner that has the place bouncing.
“Let me compose myself,” says Samantha when it’s done, pushing her hair off her face. “Sweaty room, huh?” Then with a wink as she reaches for her acoustic, “Here’s one to bum you out.” And out rolls the gorgeous ‘Need You More’.
The suggestion of some new songs is greeted by shouts of encouragement, and tonight it’s ‘Love Letters’ first out of the blocks. I wasn’t sure about those quirky little slide notes when I first heard it, but now, alongside those lines about “Oh my sweet little sexy baby, why can’t you sleep alongside of me,” they seem to fit like the breathing of a sleeping partner, and the song's dinky verse and driving chorus create satisfying light and shade. “This one’s a bit more heavy metal,” she says, introducing ‘Watch It Die’, which suggests she hasn’t heard some of the thud and blunder that passes for metal nowadays. All the same, its buzzing riff shows that she’s still got the capacity to deliver high-end blues rock – Chris Alexander evidently thinks so, as he gets his groove on while cranking out the bottom end en route to a monster finale.
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Things are going so swimmingly Fish decides to add ‘No Angels’ to the pre-arranged set list. Starting out as restrained, chugging boogie, it explodes on the solo, then shifts through subtle guitar and piano interplay, with dynamics galore as Fish again enacts the lyric in her vocal delivery, with signature hand gestures like a Dusty Springfield armed with a guitar.
‘Daughters’, with its skipping beat, offers some more respite, but only briefly, and Breen practically has his nose on the keyboard as he embarks on another organ workout, covering for Samantha as she switches guitar to her SG for a wiry solo that builds to a punishing conclusion. Then it’s out with the cigar box, and more cheers as ‘Crow Jane’ brings the set to a crunking conclusion.
Well, sort of, as it only takes a minute before they’re back for ‘Bitch On The Run’. I could wish that Sam would leave herself the option to pull a rabbit out of the hat for an extra encore now and then, but the crowd throw themselves into the “Right now, right now” singalong regardless, and by the end there’s no doubt that the goods have been delivered.
Your favourite artists don’t routinely strike gold onstage, and don’t go kidding yourself otherwise. But tonight, in an old-fashioned, sweaty ballroom, Samantha Fish and her band – all of them – turned it up to eleven and beyond. This, my friends, was the spirit of rock’n’roll captured like lightning in a bottle.
You Can’t Go
Highway’s Holding Me Now
Blame It On The Moon
Blood In The Water
Gone For Good
Need You More
Watch It Die
Bitch On The Run