Proving that De La Soul were wrong all along, Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton are proof that two is indeed the magic number. A fantastic double-team that came out of the leftfield with the blistering ‘Death Wish Blues’ album earlier this year, the pair are leaving their marks on audiences the length and breadth of the UK with their ‘Death Wish Blues Tour’. The title alone should indicate that the duo offers up an evening of music as far away from traditional blues as possible. None of that “Woke up this morning” malarkey. No sir, for tonight it is time to kick out the jams…
Serving as special guests on the 10-date blitzkrieg that started in the North and snakes its way South until it hits London on October 30th are The Commoners, who are making good on their promise to come back real soon after winning over so many on their April co-headling tour with Troy Redfern. The Toronto-based roots-rockers are built for the road, and given the huge distances that they must have to navigate back home in The Great White North, this jaunt around England and Scotland is child’s play. And with Planet Rock Radio adding the scorchio new single ‘Devil Teasin’ Me’ to their much sought after A-List radio playlist (the holy grail for a new band) there is no time like the present for The Commoners to scratch a few more cities off the been-there-done-it map.
It only takes until the second song, ‘Shake You Off’, before the Black Crowes comparisons hit, and when they hit, they hit big time. Having dispensed with his guitar, vocalist Chris Medhurst is free to release his inner Chris Robinson (and in doing so release his inner Rod Stewart, his inner Mick Jagger) including a stunning scream towards the end of the song, and spark memories of one of THE great gigs that this famous/infamous venue has ever seen: The Black Crowes on their ‘Southern Harmony and Musical Companion’ UK Tour in 1992. Strangely, tonight’s show lands pretty much at the same time as ’99 Pounds’, the first single to be released from the forthcoming boxset celebrating the seminal second album from the ‘Crowes. With Ben Spiller (bass) and Adam Cannon (drums) helping out on backing vocals, it is a riotous celebration of life.
Arching his back with his right arm raised in a move often known as Page-esque, guitarist Ross Hayes Citrullo is a joy to watch and a fantastic player with some gorgeous touches – including when he unleashes some devilish slide guitar on his red SG during an airing for the title track of the forthcoming new album ‘Restless’. A slower, ballad-like blues moment that has a beautiful solo from Citrullo where he changes between guitar pick and finger picking style. Set highlight is ‘Fill My Cup’, a perfect tip of the hat to The Band that has the lush keyboard sound from Miles Evans-Branagh just about stealing the show from Medhurst’s passionate vocals. The original version comes with some gorgeous female backing vocals and is simply stunning, until the band can tour with a larger production, this will do. Once this run of supporting slots ends, The Commoners have added a headline show of their own before flying home. Catch them at The Bourne Music Club on Wednesday 1st November. Tickets are available from www.thecommoners.ca. A band that makes you kick yourself for missing them last time around – a mistake never to be repeated.
Opening with a blistering cover of MC5’s legendary call-to-arms ‘Kick Out the Jams’ is a real statement of intent and one that fuels the entire 90-minute set. It’s blues, but not as we know it. It is Death Wish Blues. So you won’t be going down to the river to wash your sins away…or a thousand other overplayed trad blues tropes. Instead, marvel as Samantha Fish steps back in a supporting role as Jesse Dayton takes the first solo before he then retreats to the drum riser as Samantha steps forward for her solo. Yerp, this is a guitar-heavy night, and in some style. No time for hanging around and as soon as the Wayne Kramer classic ends, the stellar band (completed by Ron Johnson (bass), Jamie Douglass (drums), and Mickey Finn (keys)) launches into the groove-tastic ‘Deathwish’ which alternates heavy drum-filled breakdowns with sweet, almost-spoken word vocals from Samantha and a cool back-and-forth between two great vocals of differing style. This continues with a full-pelt rendition of the Sun Records rock and roll nugget ‘Feelin’ Good’ by Little Junior’s Blue Flames that has both Fish and Dayton trading guitar licks in an improvised jam – including some left-hand finger tapping from Dayton. 15 minutes in, and it’s finally time to catch a breath.
Before slowing things down with a cover of Barbara Lewis’s ‘Hello Stranger’, Samantha takes the time to welcome the audience to a “…new show that we have put together…” and this is where the show excels. It is a carefully crafted show with a setlist that probably took some tinkering before it was just right. And it is just right. After the torch song touch of ‘Hello Stranger’ it is straight into the rock and roll hellacious guitar of ‘Brand New Cadillac’ – made famous by English-American rock and roll singer Vince Taylor, but, here is where Jesse Dayton comes in, the track was also famously covered by The Clash on ‘London Calling’ and the punk-influence from the likeable Texan constantly shines through. Jesse has played with cowpunk originators Supersuckers after all, as well as playing Elvis covers with Glenn Danzig at the legendary ‘Danzig Sings Elvis’ shows. And with Jesse onboard, the dual-guitars make everything beefier – especially the jaw-dropping new version of Samantha’s own ‘Bulletproof’ which sees her breaking out the cigar box guitar for the first time this evening. Oh my, what a stunning version of a song that was already good enough but has been made better.
The couple has an album to promote, and that’s exactly what they do, with the mid-section of the 22-song set featuring the bulk of the ‘Death Wish Blues’ album; ‘Settle For Less’ has a gorgeous shimmering guitar intro from Jesse on a slow-burning cautionary tale; the Hendrix-like ‘Down in the Mud’ features mostly Jesse on vocals but it also packs a bit of a Bobby Womack soulful touch in places, and Samantha’s solo positively sizzles; whilst it is the combination of Jesse’s vocals and Samantha’s fiery solo that really stand out on ‘Trauma’. There is obviously great chemistry between the pair and this is highlighted during a short acoustic segment that has Jesse telling the tale of how he knew that this partnership would work when the pair bonded over a mutual admiration of Townes Van Zandt, cue a beautiful version of the legendary American singer-songwriter’s ‘I’ll Be Here in the Morning’ which is followed up by Jesse’s own country-blues-filled ‘Baby’s Long Gone’. The band comes back on for the toe-tapping ‘Lover On the Side’ which has Samantha still on the acoustic, while Jesse has gone back to electric and effortlessly peels off another blistering solo. ‘Flooded Love’ has a killer Link Wray-like guitar sound and Jamie Douglass is putting in one almighty shift behind that kit. One of the strongest of the original songs aired (along with ‘Deathwish’ and ‘Riders’).
The covers continue into the final stages and Samantha pours her heart into a spine-tingling cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ classic ‘I Put a Spell on You’ before the band launches into a throaty run-through of the Love cornerstone hit ‘7 and 7 Is’ which again has Douglass playing out of his skin. Ending on ‘Goin’ Down South’ – made famous by R.L. Burnside – this was genuinely a set that exceeded all expectations and proved to be perhaps the greatest surprise of the year so far. File under not-to-be-missed.
Remaining tour dates:
Tuesday 24 October 2023
Wednesday 25 October 2023
Bournemouth, O2 Academy
Thursday 26 October 2023
Bexhill, De La Warr Pavilion
Friday 27 October 2023
Birmingham, O2 Institute
Saturday 28 October 2023
London, 100 Club (Sold Out)
Monday 30 October 2023
Ticket information here.
Review – Dave
All live images – Dave Jamieson