Saturday, May 25, 2019

Samantha Fish - Q-Factory, Amsterdam, 23 May 2019

It’s 11.45pm, Samantha Fish has been offstage for about an hour, and she’s just finishing up the last few selfies and signatures for a throng of fans at the merch stand.  So ends the latest gig in a European tour on which the buzz is reaching new decibel levels.
The Q-Factory is a modern complex of rehearsal rooms, music shop, café, two concert halls and god knows what else.  Fish and her band take the stage in front of a near capacity audience of 650, and kick into ‘Wild Heart’. It’s a big square box of a room this, and where
All-out hoedown!
I’m standing down the front the sound seems heavy on the bottom, but they cut through it by rocking the house with a set that’s big on raunch.
Twin peaks early on are once again the energy rush of ‘You Can’t Go’ and, even better, ‘Little Baby’.  The latter is in a whole different league tonight, with Samantha going all Dick Dale on the intro, and Phil Breen bashing out honesty tonk piano en route to an all-out hoedown, with Fish delivering a screaming, bottom-of-the-neck solo, and Chris Alexander going nuts on bass, turning it into one of those musical moments that makes you want to laugh out loud with pleasure.
Those two tunes bracket the new ones ‘Love Letters’ and ‘Watch It Die’, and a super slinky ‘Chills And Fever’.  Standing in front of Phil Breen’s keyboards, it’s easier to pick up on the subtle guitar/keys harmonies in the former, while the latter is an exercise in light and shade – and both feature fierce solos from Samantha, though not at the vertiginous heights of the monster to follow in ‘Little Baby’ (if you can have vertiginous heights in the Netherlands).
“By the way, I’m super-American and don’t speak any Dutch,” says Fish to amused laughter – given that Dutch is a super-hard language to learn, and they almost all speak English anyway, sometimes switching mid-sentence.  They whack into ‘Cowtown’, and the manner of her SG playing indicates that its country undertones are by way of the Stones, while Phil Breen gets on with a bout of headshaking as he gives it plenty on keys ahead of a brief singalong.

A full-on, rocking-out reading of ‘Highway’s Holding Me Now’, and ‘Gone For Good’, bracket the aching acoustic country of ‘Need You More’.  Tonight Fish opts for her Delaney semi-acoustic on ‘Gone For Good’, giving it a warmer tone, while Scotty Graves gives his snare drum a serious workout to drive the song along.
Sam takes a gulp of water before delivering her Lulu-like “Weeeeeee-yeeaah-yeeah-eaahulll” vocal intro to ‘Somebody’s Always Trying’, leading to a swirling mid-section, a moody pedal board exploration on her knees, and then an unhurried crescendo that takes her into agony-and-ecstasy guitar goddess territory.
They close tonight with  ‘Shake ‘Em Down’, a cigar box stomp full of grinding, screaming slide, before coming back for ‘Bitch On The Run’, with Fish working the crowd like a good ‘un on the call and response section, leading up to a wild, pounding conclusion.  And thence to that merch stall, and a crowd of happy punters ready to give their endorsement.
Some of the PR bumf around Samantha Fish talks about her genre-bending tendencies,
Curse Of Lono - bloody civilised
and the same is true in a different way of alt.all-sorts-of-roots music London-based support band Curse Of Lono. Which may make them sound kooky, but they’re not.
‘Blackout Fever’ is a chug-along opener, but subsequent songs are particularly enlivened by a range of tasteful guitar work from Joe Hazell.  The Doorsy vibe of ‘London Rain’ is garnished by a succession of sparky licks, while ‘Way To Mars’ features spangly guitar complemented by high-end piano chords from Dani.  Then on ‘No Trouble’ he delivers a solo that reminds me, I think, of what Hugh Burns brought to Gerry Rafferty’s records in the 70s and 80s.  And so on, and so on, to good effect.
But they’re good songs too.  ‘Send For The Whisky’, I’ve decided on repeated acquaintance, reminds me of that line in ‘Me And Bobby McGee’ about “Freedom’s just another word for – nothin’ else to do”.  Meanwhile their rendition of Tom Waits’ ‘Going Out West’ develops a brooding groove you could swim in like a dark river at night, and the closing ‘Valentine’ is bloody and menacing, but still civilised, like an Orwellian English murder.  And all this with smiles on their faces that belie the darkness of the material. Clearly they enjoy doing it – see what you make of them next time they’re in your neck of the woods.

Samantha Fish setlist
Wild Heart
Love Letters
Watch It Die
Chills And Fever
Little Baby
Blood In The Water
Cowtown
Need You More
Gone For Good
Somebody's Always Trying
Shake 'Em Down
Bitch On The Run

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