LIVE: Samantha Fish @ Empire LIVE, 11/09/2021
Samantha Fish at Empire Live Dispels Any Lingering Thoughts That Women Are The Weaker Sex.
“Me, too,” my ass. Samantha Fish is declaring to the world, ME, ONE, opening her hour and a half set at Empire Live Tuesday night with “Twisted Ambition” from her latest aptly named Faster album; “Twisted ambition, I’m in control. Switch your position, time to let go.”
A crowd of about 300 to 400 stood stock still like Stonehenge statues as her volcano erupted, all but overpowering them, solid in its impact but fluid in its execution. She’s a third-generation rocker who’s mastered blues guitar but then moved it into a much harder territory that second-generation rockers first hammered home more than half a century ago.
I kept flashing back to concerts I’d seen by the nascent Led Zeppelin performing as the New Yardbirds at the Aerodrome in Schenectady in 1968; Beck, Bogard, and Appice in Syracuse in 1970; and most particularly Johnny Winter at the Fillmore East in 1968. She has a command of the slide guitar like Johnny had; razor-sharp with a dexterity unparalleled. Winter, even more than Duane Allman, took Elmore James’ primordial slide into a complex execution. But while Winter drew blood in his delivery, Samantha takes her slide into the fundamental melody structure of her songs. Her metal on metal becomes more than an exclamation point during a solo. It’s fundamental to the primary melody line.
Her stage presence is like Winter’s in that her aura takes over the entire stage and sucks the air out of the audience. Where the crowd at last week’s North Mississippi Allstars show at the Cohoes Music Hall punctuated their performance with banshee screams, Samantha left them all without a tongue, like a python mesmerizing its kill with advance of a paralyzing strike. In Samantha’s case, the bite is more than a bark.
“Better Be Lonely” should be a single. It’s an anthem for where we are today, and the public declaration that married men have known for eternity. The ladies are in control: “I wish, I wish, I wish, I liked you better, but I don’t/It’s just a kiss, a kiss, a kiss/ we ain’t together and I won’t.”
One of the snapshots permanently burned into my brain is of Samantha backing her van into a tight parking space backstage at the King Biscuit Blues Festival. She looked like a trucker in total control. I think the year was 2017, and I told Bob Van Degna who was shooting photos for a coffee table book, Helena Blues, on the festival to make sure he got good stuff on her. She’s a quake maker changing the paradigm of America’s music.
Bob shot her poised against an old doorway with vertical bars on it, her right hand on her hip and her left on the handle as if she were ready to break on through to the other side. I quoted her then saying, “I grew up on rock and roll. I grew up listening to country music. I love all that stuff. For a long time there when I first started, I felt like I kinda had to fit into the specific mold, and in blues, I did. I listen to everything, but I don’t try to sound like they sound, (but) I still steal things from people I really like. To me, this isn’t what girls do. It didn’t deter me, but I just remember there are more women out there doing things that are outside of what they believe their role to be. It’s our job, both genders collectively, to make room for it, to accept it.”
Today, speaking about her latest album, Faster, she says, “I feel like it’s the next version of me. It’s the next evolution. I feel like it’s a natural one from where I was going with the record before. I felt I was working my way into a contemporary soundscape. I know sometimes some people say pop is a dirty word. I feel it’s a word for a lot of different styles of music, but as far as things go, I definitely wanted to make things that had that soft edge to it, still the stronghold of the blues but utilizing different instruments and electronic aspects of this music to kind of create this – I don’t know – modern-sounding thing.”
The opening act, River Kitten from St. Louis, Missouri features two women, Mattie Schell and Allie Vogler, who duet together, mostly on originals while playing mandolin and acoustic guitar. They are supported by an electric lead guitarist, a bass player, and no drums.
Samantha personally picked them to tour with her. Like Samantha, they break conventions. Their strongest influence is Piedmont folk – they’d be right at home in a Kentucky barn on Saturday night. That said, they covered Springsteen’s “Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City” and Aretha’s “Baby I Luv Ya” with Matti warning the crowd, “If you don’t love her get the fuck out.”