Samantha Fish + Felix Rabin

Thursday 5th March 2020

Islington Assembly Hall, London

March is the month that celebrates the 10th anniversary of the rebirth of London’s Islington Assembly Hall as a much needed music venue and 70 years since it was first opened as a community hall back in 1930. Tonight’s gig is hot ticket - it’s sold out as have quite a few of Samatha’s other shows on this 22 date European tour.

Her support is a power trio of 24 year old Frenchman guitarist Felix Rabin along with Niccolo Rebecchi on drums and Vincenzo Capodivento on bass. Sam’s girly ruched velvet stage backdrop looks somewhat incongruent with these three gangly blokes striding on but never mind. I haven’t seen Felix since one of his early London gigs at the 100 Club a couple of years back and it’s great to see him on a decent stage with a decent PA. That 100 Club appearance obviously got him noticed by the right people as that lead to a support slot for Wishbone Ash and since then he’s had a couple of other forays into the UK as a headliner with increasing success. Tonight he’s only got a short slot so I imagine he’ll be playing his new 'Pogboy' EP in pretty much it’s entirety. You can read a review of that very record by my good self elsewhere on these Wrinkly pages.

Nope, I’m wrong, Felix kicks off with an oldie, the title track from his debut EP 'Down Our Roads'. Jeez, how old can an oldie be you’re thinking, when this kid’s only 24? Well that EP is 5 years old now and recorded when Felix was just 19. It’s only then we get 2 tracks on the trot from the new record, 'Say (You Won’t Leave Me)' and 'Moving On', and both are sounding solid despite the lack of brass stabs on the studio versions. As I said in that EP review, Felix reminds me strongly of John Mayer, it’s a style of music you can’t really pinpoint with a name other than maybe Blues/Soul. The audience members here certainly approve, they’re all nodding appreciatively along to the finely crafted songs. Then comes the unmistakable wah-wah that introduces Hendrix’s 'Voodoo Chile'. Okay then, THIS will sort the men from the boys. It’s a tough song to do for a London crowd, after all we feel like WE discovered Jimi - even the ones that aren’t even born at the time that he has here have a sense of ownership. But I can’t help but think of Felix’s overly polite version of 'Hey Joe' on his first EP and hope that 5 years on from that effort he’s got the chops and grit for Jimi’s tour-de-force. Yep, Felix has cracked it - he’s attacking the song with fluidity and confidence. Indeed, Felix breaks a string during the solo but valiantly carried on - in fact he seemed to be spurred on to pull even more stops out when reduced to 4 strings. Okay it’s a long way from the definitive modern Voodoo covers by SRV and KWS, but it gets the biggest cheer of the set and deservedly so. The Strat is swapped for a Tele for the final couple of songs and it’s a ballad called 'Find Me' that’s as yet unpublished. This kind of material suits Felix’s voice much better. That soon morphs into the huge sounding 'Walk' that kicks off the new EP - no doubt featuring the harmonising Pog pedal - the over-fondness of which gave Felix his nickname of Pogboy. So after a mere 35 minutes Felix, Nicco & Vinny are off with the cheers of punters ringing in their ears and no doubt some new fans.

Set list:
Down Our Roads
Say (You Won’t Leave Me)
Moving On
Voodoo Chile
Find Me
Walk

Samantha Fish’s arrival on the stage is heralded by the theme from 2001, something that my mate Bruce says Elvis used to, so she’s in good company. But nope, we’re not getting the woman herself just yet, the band are doing the first song on their own, with keyboard Nicholas David channeling Dr. John with his own song 'Hole In The Bottom'. Only then does he announce "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN SAMANTHA FISH!" Who strides on stage to great acclaim bathed in white light, with her shock of white hair, white stilettos and an extraordinary studded white top that looks like it would lacerate your eyeballs if you stared at it for too long. She kicks off with a Memphis vibe on 'Love Your Lies' and the Black Keys-esque rocker 'Bulletproof' both from last year’s fabulous 'Kill To Be Kind' album. Crikey, her distorted vocals and cigar box guitar are sounding incongruously filthy amongst all this pure white. Midway though the song Sam swaps out the cigar box for a Fender SG in - guess what colour? - oh, you have - it’s white.

Sam then switches from grungy Seasick Steve mode into sultry Amy territory on the RIDICULOUSLY sexy 'Kill Or Be Kind'. It’s only the first of dizzying series of transformations from this very special and unique performer. Every comparison of any other contemporary that comes to mind is discarded…. Ana Popovic? Joanne Shaw Taylor? Susan Tedeschi? Nope, Samantha Fish is a BETTER singer and BETTER guitarist with BETTER material than any other female Blues performer that I think of. Well, okay, maybe not Bonnie Raitt. Oh, and she’s only 30.

Indeed I recall when I first saw Samantha in about 2013 she was in a trio of performers in one of those Girls With Guitars tours that Ruf Records put on. Well it says lot that I can’t remember who the other two were and here I am at a Samatha Fish show. “Thanks for selling this place out!” she says. “I’ve been coming to London a long time, and it just gets better and better.” Well, thanks Sam, and so do you. Nicholas David is generously given another crack at a lead vocal on his own 'Say Goodbye' - this time he’s channeling Aaron Neville rather than Dr. John - and Sam is relegated to BV's and acoustic, but what sweet BV's they are. Back to Samantha’s material and she straps on her lovely Fender Jaguar guitar that’s she’s pictured with on the cover of her new album. You can guess it’s colour I’m sure. The song is the joyful 'Little Baby' from her 2017 effort 'Chills & Fever' - one of two albums she released that year. Then it’s back to the new album for the dreamy ballad 'Dream Girl' which sadly gives a large part of the crowd a cue to erupt into conversation about Eastenders or something. Bastards.

But the punters SFTU when the set was rocked back up again with 'No Angels' and silenced totally on 'Fair-Weather' where Sam is REALLY showing Susan T how it’s done with an extraordinary vocal workout. Then it’s back to more traditional Blues-Rock territory with 'Bitch On The Run' which you could imagine Suzi Quatro getting her lungs around in 1974. We even got to sing along on this one before Samantha and her band of blokes left the stage for what everyone knew was going to be a short absence.

The encore surprisingly kicked off with the lovely Country tinged 'Need You More' before the cigar box guitar came back again for a rollicking cover of Bukka White’s 'Shake ‘Em On Down' - a song that Led Zeppelin shamelessly plundered and renamed 'Hats Off To Roy'. Samantha makes it her own and if you shut your eyes you’d swear it was Billy Gibbons tearing out those ragged notes rather than this pale young woman from Kansas in a spangly top. During the solo she flashes a smile to the audience as if to say “pretty fucking good huh?” But all too soon she clacks off the stage again in her high heels to the roar of 900 well satisfied punters and we all have to return to reality - the cold and rainy London streets and the spangle free trudge to the tube. But there’s no doubt when Samantha Fish returns to these shores we’ll all be back like a shot to bathe in that white light.

Set List:
Hole In The Bottom
Love Your Lies
Bulletproof
Kill Or Be Kind
Watch It Die
Love Letters
She Don’t Live Around Here Anymore
You Got It Bad
Say Goodbye
Little Baby
Dream Girl
No Angels
Fairweather
Bitch On The Run

Encore
Need You More
With Or Without
Shake ‘Em Down

Pete Elphick

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