Photo by Phil Honley
March 7, 2020

A foot-stomping, hard-rocking piece of jugband blues, punctuated by Fish’s cigar-box rocking slide guitar, the coloured lights filtering through her bobbing, Monroe-inspired coiffure.

Félix Rabin – photo by Robert Sutton

Islington Assembly Hall found itself completely sold out for this gig by popular Kansas City blues babe Samantha Fish. Her opening act on this tour is youthful French axe-slinger Félix Rabin, promoting his debut EP Pogboy. He launches in with a heavily-overdriven wah-based rock sound, not unlike a Robin Trower for a new generation – in fact at one point he sorts out his sound with a trill for all the world like the intro to Trower’s Bridge Of Sighs, but then slams into an epic rendition of Hendrix’ Voodoo Chile, punctuated by a comprehensive show of pink, turquoise and yellow lasers and spotlights. This is his showcase number, but Rabin almost sabotages his moment of glory by breaking a string less than a minute in – so instead, he pulls the string away, makes a wry announcement into the mic in fluent but heavily-accented English, and proceeds to bring the house down using the remaining five strings. Like many of the new blues generation, he delves into melodic pop from time to time, but his undoubted guitar skills draw sincere admiration from a jubilant crowd.

Samantha Fish – photo by Zoran Veselinovic

Samantha Fish’s retinue rebuild the stage layout over an extensive break, but then clear off, leaving the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey playing in the background to raise anticipation. The four-piece band comes running on and launches into the first number without Sam, a country-blues piece named Hole In The Bottom sung by guest keyboard player Nicholas David from Minnesota, who sings four numbers over the course of the evening. Fish comes on for the second number Love Your Lies, a foot-stomping, hard-rocking piece of jugband blues, punctuated by Fish’s cigar-box rocking slide guitar, the coloured lights filtering through her bobbing, Monroe-inspired coiffure. This and the following six numbers are all from her current album Kill Or Be Kind, released last year on Rounder Records, ranging from melodic pop to country folk, to rocking blues.

The chugging roller Watch It Die drifts away unexpectedly into an ambiently melodic section that encroaches on Goldfrapp territory with its repeated vocal line that gradually builds into a full-on guitar jam session. She follows this with the quirky Love Letters, with its staccato slide guitar punctuation. The run of numbers from the new album ends when Nicholas David, a luxuriously-bearded, hatted cookie monster of a guy in the vein of Dr John,  sings another of his own numbers, the downbeat Say Goodbye, then Fish is back to perform Little Baby, the only number of the night from 2017’s Chills & Fever album. Two more numbers from the new album follow, Dream Girl and the infectiously hooky Fairweather, but sandwiched in between is No Angels, a thumping blues number from the previous album, Belle Of The West, for me one of the evening’s highlights and an excuse for some crowd participation, as the audience is invited to yell out the answer-back vocals.

She finishes on a high with the rocking Bitch On The Run, the oldest number of the night, from 2015’s Wild Heart, which features impressive showcase solos from Phil Breen on electric piano and Scott Graves on drums, and a frankly astounding bass solo from Chris Alexander. The band exits the stage to whistling and applause that morphs into a floorboard-stamping demand for an encore.

Fish promises three further songs on her return, but grants Nicholas David to sing the first two in fairly restrained delta country fashion – Need You More, a Samantha Fish song from Belle Of The West, then another of his own songs, With Or Without. Fish dons the cigar box for the final wigout of the night, a non-album cover of Bukka White’s Shake ‘Em On Down, perhaps better known from the Black Crowes version.

Samantha Fish continues to build a reputation for great rocking shows, which build in popularity each time she hits these shores. She’s well worth a visit if you haven’t done so already!

Photo by Phil Honley