You can listen to Samantha Fish but you won’t get the essence of this woman until you see her live.
And, the near sell-out crowd in attendance on Sunday at the 600-plus seat Aladdin Theater in Portland understand her studio albums, and even the live records, hardly do justice for the prowess she owns as a singer, songwriter and especially guitarist.
A remarkable talent only the elect, it seems, have discovered, Samantha Fish released her seventh studio album Faster in 2021 during the tail-end of the pandemic shut down, so finally, a year later brought her headlining Faster tour to the Pacific Northwest. Ms. Fish last toured to Portland as the opener and afterwards commanded a lengthy autograph line for fans while headliner Marc Broussard took the stage.
No autograph line this time around but instead fans were treated to a 17-song, near two-hour long set by the 33 year old from Kansas City, MO. Born in blues and roots rock, Faster turned Fish’s focus more towards a hard rock bent and this concert was nothing short of a rock fest with debilitating solos, distinctive rhythms and winsome vocals each having their chance in the spotlight.
With a cigar box guitar in hand, Fish opened the evening with “Bulletproof” before tackling “Better Be Lonely” and “Twisted Ambition” off her latest. To say she shredded the fret during “Twisted Ambition” would be an understatement. In fact, nearly every song brought forth extended solos, and sometimes a second one, perhaps just to put an exclamation point on an obvious joy in playing. Her guitar collection rivals that of an arena band as she used at least half a dozen different axes throughout the night, maybe more, as I lost count.
Backed by a three-piece band providing drums, bass and keys, Samantha Fish commanded the stage all evening and wasted little time. A few greetings, a couple of song introductions but Fish lets her playing do the talking. The rhythm and bluesy “Chills & Fever” much more rock than downhome and the title track off her latest just more proof of her skills and foray into a harder-edged faster sound while “So-Called Lover” mirrors 90s Social Distortion.
If her guitar playing doesn’t captivate then just wait till she sings. The band offstage and holding an acoustic guitar, Fish showed off her tender side and vocals midway through her set on “Need You More” and the Charlie Patton cover “Jim Lee Blues Part 1.” She graciously flung off a comment yelled from the crowd urging her to ditch the unplugged session which she did but not by request and closed the main set, band in-hand, with “So-Called Lover” and a Nina Simone cover.
Opener Eric Johanson returned to the stage for the encore helping Fish, back on acoustic, with “I’m In Love With You” the final track off the 2015 album Wild Heart and the Neil Young cover “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.”
Often, when crafting solos or jamming with her band, which it would not surprise if the extended plays were quasi spontaneous, you understood what it was like to have been there when those early classic rock bands played smaller clubs before making it big. Indeed, much of her sound this evening played closer to 70s hard and prog rock than her musical pedigree would attest. But don’t expect her to pull the roots she’s grown in the blues world, instead she just might carve her own musical niche that combines multiple genres into a cohesive sound.