Friday, April 7, 2023

Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton - Magazzini Generali, Milan, 2 April 2023

To use the old oxymoronic cliché, this show by Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton was a bit of a curate’s egg – good in parts.  This is a very odd thing for me to say about a show involving Sam Fish, but I have my reasons.
For one thing, there’s the matter of unfamiliar material.  This is partly a matter of timing, as the duo’s album Death Wish Blues, doesn’t come out until May, so a handful of songs in this set are unknown quantities.  And while I know Fish’s back catalogue very well indeed, I can’t say the same about Jesse Dayton, so a couple of his songs are new to me too.
Jesse Dayton and Samantha Fish pick their way through the symbolic murk
None of which would necessarily bother me much, if the sound wasn’t so bad.  From where I’m standing during the first half of this show, a few metres from the stage, the mix is terrible.  The drums seem to swamp everything, rendering the keyboards inaudible most of the time, and even worse making it difficult to hear the vocals with any clarity.  Given that Samantha Fish is generally a singer with seriously good diction, the fact that her words are reduced to a blur here is a major disappointment.  It's bad enough when the subtlety of her well-known cover of ‘Hello Stranger’ is completely overpowered by the clattering drums, but it’s ruinous on a previously unheard song like the soulful ‘No Apology’, where what Fish is singing about is anyone’s guess.
And just as the audio is a problem, so is the visual, because the lighting is unhelpfully hyperactive.  Magazzini Generali is a venue given over more to club nights than gigs, and it seems the in-house lighting guy isn’t too fussed about adjusting the light show for the latter.   So we’re subjected to a whirling display, and an occasional fug of smoke, that generally do more to obscure the band than illuminate them.
All the same, there’s entertainment to be had in the course of the night.  The rock’n’roll intent is clear when they open with ‘Brand New Cadillac’, and they give Junior Parker’s ‘Feel So Good’ a decent thrashing, while there’s also a grinding purpose to the “get no more than you deserve” counsel of ‘Settle For Less’.  Fish straps on her cigar box to knock out the reliably punchy ‘Bulletproof’, but for me a better choice in this show would be for them to drag the gutsy, tub-thumping duet of ‘Go To Hell’ out from the depths of her closet. 
Dayton’s brief and strutting ‘Hurtin’ Behind The Pine Curtain’ has a satisfyingly heavy, heavy monster sound, and there’s a funkier feel to new song ‘Trauma’, with its Zeppelin-like bridge.  But it’s the acoustic double-header of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘I’ll Be Here In The Morning’ and
It's a hard dollar, but they just can't let it go.
Dayton’s ‘Baby’s Long Gone’ that really starts to turn the set around, allowing the duo to show their subtlety, as the band take a break and there’s respite from the overweight mix.  The former tune features a neatly Hispanic solo from JD, while the latter is a coruscating acoustic blues on which Fish delivers a lovely solo of her own.
It also helps that shortly afterwards I retreat to stand by the sound desk, where the mix seems – as you’d hope, fer cryin’ out loud - less lop-sided.  And this coincides with them embarking on a run of covers with which familiarity breeds contentment.  ‘Shake Your Hips’ features another characterful Dayton solo, and then they segue into ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, producing some walloping fun.
They slow things down for ‘I Put A Spell On You’, on which Samantha conjures up a ghostly solo to go with her slinky (and thankfully intelligible) vocal, before bringing it to a head with a howling guitar foray, laying the foundations for a driving, punkish rendition of Love’s ‘Seven And Seven Is’, which they dial back for a tasty display of interlinked guitar work.
The set proper then closes with new single ‘Riders’, on which the keys finally surface to offer some throbbing clavinet as the pair let rip vocally about how the road is in their blood - a "hard dollar" that they just can't let go.  And they encore with new song ‘Know My Heart’, which sounds like it might have legs, but which is outdone by the solidly rocking blues of ‘Going Down South’.
All in all this wasn’t a show on which to judge just how well the talents of Jesse Dayton and Samantha Fish blend, and add up to something extra.  It was a gig in which the pairing fought an unhelpful setting, and won on points.  If I see ‘em again later in the year, I hope it’s in more sympathetic surroundings.

1 comment:

  1. Another outstanding review, Iain! Sad the sound mix was so bad here; Samantha & Jesse's new songs certainly deserve a proper listen. Hope you are able to see them again, in better conditions.