Saturday, October 29, 2022

Samantha Fish, Wille & The Bandits - Wylam Brewery, Newcastle, 25 September 2022

Bonus marks to Samantha Fish for wearing a black and white outfit in Newcastle, the home of the Magpies.  Though she really didn’t need any special pleading to get the attention of this audience.
Tonight’s set is front loaded with newer material, ‘Bulletproof’ up first, followed by five straight songs from Faster.  ‘Bulletproof’ is a slam-dunk rocker to open, but it also feels looser, more relaxed, than on previous encounters, as Fish plays around with her phrasing.  There’s not much messing about on the stuff that follows though.  Both the funk groove of ‘All Ice No Whiskey’ and
Samantha Fish feels the burn!
the muscular ‘Faster’, with Sarah Tomek's walloping snare beat, are kept short and to the point. In between, the contemporary bump’n’grind of ‘Twisted Ambition’ is given extra spice by Fish verily wringing that neck on a wild solo.  
During ‘Like A Classic’ her voice sounds a little lighter than usual, and I’m wondering if she might be feeling a slight tickle in her throat, but if so she sure as hell gets over it by the end of the spiky power pop that’s ‘Better Be Lonely', when she unleashes some steepling, swirling high notes.
Maybe her voice is utterly tour-hardened – I don’t see her take a single sip of water during the whole set – but later on even she finds it a challenge to make the falsetto chorus of ‘So Called Lover’ cut through the full force gale they apply to its Blondie-like punk-pop.  It doesn’t stop her enjoying herself though, as she almost bursts into laughter mid-line at one point, probably having glimpsed the novelty flashing shades of superfan ‘Boogie Ignitor’*, standing right in front of her.
The first older song to get an airing is ‘Gone For Good’, a teasing intro giving way to a hip-wiggling run through with plenty room for Samantha’s slippin’an’slitherin’ slide playing, as well as a rattling piano solo from Matt Wade en route to a rip-roaring conclusion.  Then, introducing ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’, Fish jokes about the “churchy” ambience of this domed venue, suggesting it has a certain “resonance-esonance-esonance”.  It’s not exactly a throwaway line, as after the song’s low key intro it builds and builds in dramatic fashion, until she unveils her latest trick, by heaping reverb onto her vocal for a crowning moment, before they add a slinky ending.  Evidently it’s an effect Samantha likes, because she also lets it loose on Nina Simone’s ‘Either Way I Lose’, amplifying the song’s agonised emotion.  A spell of sotto voce guitar turns
Shades of deep purple
steely, then cools off again before she delivers a dentist-drilling solo to round the song off.
Along the way Sam teases the crowd at the start of ‘Bitch On The Run’, asking them to get their hands in the air, scolding them for a half-hearted effort, and promising there’ll be payback later.  Then they rip into it, with that riff that must surely give Keith Richards a phantom tingle up his spine wherever he may be, and in no time the crowd explode into enthusiastic clapping along, such that Fish turns to look at bassist Ron Johnson with a beaming “got ‘em” smile, before diving into an eyeballs-out solo.  Matt Wade steps in with an organ break to take things down, then stomps on the power again.  But La Fish isn’t finished teasing, telling the audience that if they think clapping along was payback then they’re wrong, as it’s time for them to take a turn at singing.  Which they do with gusto, of course.
‘Black Wind Howlin’’ provides the crunking, grinding finale, into which Fish inserts a needling, discordant solo before leading the band into an explosive closing segment - so explosive that she breaks a string.
Fish comes out alone and picks up her acoustic for the first encore, again engaging in some repartee with the crowd, telling them coquettishly that “you guys are special” before embarking on ‘Jim Lee Blues Pt.1’, inspiring some more spontaneous clapping to accompany her extensive, playful solo.  Then it’s time to strap on the cigar box again for the stomping raunch of ‘Shake ‘Em On Down’, which concludes with Samantha executing some bottom of the neck wailing fit to
Smiling Bandit Wille Edwards
disturb the local dog population.
Whisper it if you’re in earshot of the Toon Army, but Samantha Fish delivered an even better 90-minute performance than they’d see at St James’ Park.
Cornwall’s Wille & The Bandits are opening on this tour, in the latest line-up led by singer, guitarist and main man Wille Edwards.  Edwards and WATB have been fixtures on the club circuit and at festivals for years, and deserve the extra exposure this tour will provide for their inventive mix of blues-rock with other stylings.
Opener ‘Caught In The Middle’ is a good example, with Edwards delivering rhythmic rapping amid swirling textures and periodic detonations of power.  He’s equally rhythmic on the funky ‘Keep It On The Down-Low’, which he stirs up with a splintering guitar solo, and later a lap steel break that comes over like interstellar radio bleeping.
‘Still Go Marching In’ is soulful pop over a snapping beat, with oohing backing vocals and woozy lap steel, plus a sensitive singalong asking “When will that rainbow come?”    But they pull out the heavy machinery down the stretch, including the big riff of long-time favourite ‘1970’, on which Edwards goes into full-on axe hero mode, before closing with ‘Bad News’ on which a fugue-like middle passage erupts into a wailing finale.
Wille & The Bandits head out on their own headline tour in February and March next year, and will doubtless attract some Fish fans along to catch them delivering a full set.

*Harry 'Boogie Ignitor' Loflin is a retiree from Washington State, who regularly travels to Europe to follow Samantha's tours, wearing goofy attire to gigs as in accordance with his admirable maxim, "Life is short, have fun!"

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