Saturday, March 7, 2020

Samantha Fish - Islington Assembly Hall, London, 5 March 2020

The lights dim, the strains of ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ on the entry tape swell, and drummer Scotty Graves scoots across the stage and round to his drum stool, arms spread wide like an aeroplane.  
That capering entrance just about sums up the fun this band are having, and transmit to the audience.  But if it’s a carefree performance, it sure as hell ain’t a careless one, because this show is a switchback ride mashing up blues, rock’n’roll, soul and country, and they need to keep their eyes on the road, their hands on the musical wheel.
Samantha Fish feels the soul
Samantha Fish makes her entrance and after a brooding slide intro they blast into a cigar box flaying ‘Bulletproof’.  About an hour and three-quarters later she’s got the cigar box in her hands again, for a pounding, body-slamming rendition of ‘Shake ‘Em On Down’.  And in between they flex their blues and rock muscles on the likes of a walloping run-through of ‘Watch It Die’, which they dial down into a quiet “I won’t fade away” passage, before Fish lets rip with a screaming solo.  Then there’s their take on ‘You Got It Bad’, completely eclipsing the recorded version, with a crunching middle eight and Samantha making like a Siren of the guitar on the ending.  And they really “blues it up”, in Fish’s words, on ‘No Angels’.  It’s ticking opening builds suspense before it gains momentum, rising and falling through a raunchy keyboard solo from Phil Breen and slide solo from Samantha on which they crank up the pace before dipping again into the final verse.
On the soulful front there’s no arguing with ‘She Don’t Live Here Anymore’, which shows how much Fish learned from the making of Chills And Fever. There’s attention to detail in the little cymbal sting Graves provides just as Fish drops her hip on a particular beat, but it’s just that - a detail - compared to her shivering slide solo and the delicate keys and organ solo provided by Phil Breen.  Being honest, I could live without the bitter-sweet ‘Love Letters’, good as it is, if it created room for another swig of rock’n’roll on a gallop through ‘Love Your Lies’.  But late in the set ‘Fair-weather’ is just spellbinding, even if I’m not convinced by Fish throwing away a few lines by dropping into spoken words at the end of them.  It’s got a sublime key change though, and Fish produces a trademark bravura vocal to close, while simultaneously re-tuning her goddamned guitar.  Don’t that just make you sick?
Along the way they also down-shift into the sweetly cool country-ish ‘Say Goodbye’, with keyboard player Nick David taking the lead vocal and Samantha dropping in a rippling acoustic solo, and later, for the first encore, they repeat the trick with a duet on the gorgeous ‘Need You More’ from Belle Of The West, with its pseudo-Hispanic, moonlit acoustic solo.
Yes, they are ready to rock'n'roll a little bit!
Mid-set, Fish asks “Y’all ready to rock’n’roll a little bit?”  This cues up the rattling ‘Little Baby’, on which Chris Alexander gives it plenty on bass while his boss delivers an eyeballs-out solo, en route to her duel with a drumstick-throwing Scotty Graves and a gut-wrenching denouement.  Then, with barely a pause for breath they’re sliding into the acid trip phantasmagoria of ‘Dream Girl’, with Graves taking a brush to his snare drum as the undertow to woozy slide guitar and aching vocals, melding into off-kilter synth effects and a spacey, echo-laden guitar solo.
They close the main set with ‘Bitch On The Run’, and for all it’s a song with a Stonesy undercurrent, the Strolling Bones would need steroids, Viagra, and who knows what else chemical enhancement to rock like this nowadays.  Nick David and Phil Breen take turns parading their keyboard chops, Chris Alexander thrums his bass like a junior Geddy Lee, and Scotty Graves throws a towel over his head for a snappy drum solo that swings enough to have Fish giving a smiling wiggle or two stage left.  Then she heads back to the mic to conduct the inevitable singalong as a precursor to a rocking, neck-snapping finale.
At some point in the middle of this multi-faceted set, some drunk guy shouts “Play some
Fèlix Rabin gets personal
fucking blues!”  Mate, if you were looking for wall-to-wall 12–bar blues wailing, you came to the wrong gig.  Samantha Fish puts on a stylistic rollercoaster ride of a rockn’roll show.  And to paraphrase Mott The Hoople, she’s a rock’n’roll queen, know what I mean?
After all that, one could be forgiven for neglecting the support slot contribution to the evening of French singer-guitarist Fèlix Rabin.  He kicks off with some effects-driven Hendrixness that isn’t apparent on his newly-released Pogboy EP, and continues in a choppy-funky vein with a warped wah-wah solo on ‘Say (You Won’t Leave Me)’.  But ‘Moving On’ introduces a more personal, melodic sound, showing off some exquisitely clear tone.
He reverts to Hendrix-mode with a ten-minute cover of ‘Voodoo Chile’, on which he proceeds to break a string but adapts well to let rip convincingly before a machine gun riffing ending.  And there’s still room for inventive choral effects on the big descending riff of ‘Walk’ with its anthemic chorus.  Fèlix Rabin may still be a fresh-faced 24-year old, but his potential is obvious.

The set list for the show is available at setlist.fm here.
You can find a review of the 28 February show in Glasgow here.

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