Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Samantha Fish - Sage 2, Gateshead, 7 May 2019

Wild Heart seems like a pretty good monicker for Samantha Fish. It’s not just the title track for one of her albums.  Or the name of the record label she’s created.  It also captures the qualities she brings to her live performance – by turns frenetic, intimate, and emotional.
Shorn of the horns, the four-piece she’s brought on this European tour still has the weight and the chemistry to bring to life whatever material she throws into the mix, with Phil Breen’s keys perhaps taking a more prominent role in rounding out the sound.
Sam Fish - no rabble rousing required
Warming up with ‘American Dream’, Fish gets her slide guitar mojo working over rock steady bass from Chris Alexander, and sets to working the crowd with ease.  Every inch the rock chick in studded pink leather jacket and black leather trousers, she doesn’t need to be a rabble-rouser to get them on side. A beckoning gesture and a quick aside of encouragement is all it takes.
The Sage 2 is a glossily modern three-tiered room.  It’s also distinctly warm from the outset.  So it’s no surprise that after a slinky ‘Chills And Fever’, on which Sam essays a subtle solo and lets rip vocally for the first time on the ending, the leather jacket comes off in time for ‘Wild Heart’. With its high-revving ‘Barracuda’-like riff, and a bout of her inimitable vocal pyrotechnics, it brings a palpable change of gear to proceedings, and when they then segue into the snappy, stuttering R’n’B of ‘You Can’t Go’ the energy levels on stage become electrifying.
Dynamics are to the fore though, as they down shift into the brooding ‘No Angels’, with funky bass from Alexander and a thumping tick-tock rhythm from drummer Scotty Graves, a piano solo from Breen, and Fish taking it down further with intriguing volume pedal inflected slide playing before breaking out onto another level..  She also recruits the audience for some “No it ain’t” call and response singing, even if expecting anyone to match her somersaulting vocals is somewhat implausible. 
She straps on an acoustic for a couple of songs.  First there’s the dreamy, country-tinged Americana of ‘Need You More’, with a delicate and lovely solo conjured out of both strumming and picking.  Then later there’s ‘Daughters’, featuring deliciously warm piano playing from Breen as a prelude to his boss smoothly switching guitars to her SG mid-song, in readiness for a scorching, head-shaking solo.
Achingly good vocals to light the blue touch paper
In between we’re treated to a trio of songs from her upcoming album Kill Or Be Kind.  ‘Bulletproof’ is a typically energetic cigar box guitar rocker, with a punchy chorus and a descending melody on the verse thatsounds like a kind of Sixties rock’n’roll version of the “It’s so good, it’s so good, it’s so good, it’s so good, it’s soooo good” line from Donna Summer ‘I Feel Love’ - I kid you not.  And indeed it is so good, as Sam duly goes nuts on the solo to the accompaniment of some stroboscopic lighting.
‘Love Letters’ is a multi-faceted affair, with some breathy “you and I” vocals from Fish, backed up by Alexander, and shows that she’s absorbed the soul of those Chills And Fever tunes to become a 21st Century Sixties Girl.  ‘Watch It Die’, meanwhile, is notable for the underlying intricacy of its throbbing, buzzsaw riff, Sam’s right hand fluidly combining her pick and her fingers, before she again switches guitars mid-song, from her Delaney semi-acoustic to her SG, for the slow segment that offers a breather before another wig-out solo.
The dark and heavy ‘Crow Jane’ is the set closer, a cigar box stomper, with Phil Breen working away studiously and Graves getting into some floor-tom infused tub-thumping – more than once during the set he has to adjust his kit, the hi-hat and kick drum having shifted position – before they drift into a slithery ‘Shake Em On Down’ coda.
“Do you want one more?” Sam asks when they reappear.  “Two more!”  “Three More!” come the shouts from the crowd.  But that response is more in hope than expectation, and the Stonesy ‘Bitch On The Run’ duly brings the night to a close with the traditional “Right now, right now” singalong.
Curse Of Lono - Southern Gothic-on-Thames
London-based tour support Curse Of Lono can’t compete with the Fish level of firepower, but their Southern Gothic-on-Thames still makes for an intriguing proposition, and they evidently have a posse of their own fans in attendance who are more than happy with their set.
They kick off with ‘Blackout Fever’ which effectively takes the riff from ‘Wild Thing’ and transforms it into a subterranean bass groove.  It’s a catchy affair, showing off their harmonies and some neat slide from Joe Hazell.  As dark as they may be though, ‘Way To Mars’ is actually a pleasingly poppy tune, with spangly guitar and a nice a cappella harmony ending.  Their cover of Tom Waits' 'Going Out West' is meaty and rumbling, and they bring some Alabama 3-like warped country tinges to ‘Welcome Home’, while ‘And It Shows' is a subtle, sub fusc affair, with brushed drums and twinkling guitar from Hazell.  Throughout all this main man Felix Bechtolsheimer is a poised and engaging presence, and on the whole there’s a zip to their live performance that outshines their two albums, as intelligent as those are.  If you’re not familiar with them it’s worth getting along early to catch them before the main event.

You can find a review of the Edinburgh gig on 9 May here, and the Glasgow gig on 10 May here.

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