FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: STILL GOT THE BLUES
“Is this queue for Ann Summers?” someone enquired. I got that he was joking but nonetheless several men of a certain age around us shuffled awkwardly on the cold pavement. Yes, the shop advertising erotic outfits for Halloween happens to be next door to that famous music venue, The 100 Club, on the north side of London’s own shopping nightmare, Oxford Street. We were queuing to see the formidable blues rock pairing of Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton make its debut in the capital on the final night of their UK tour.
Once inside the venue, those men of a certain age continued to occupy the gig room in increasing numbers with a smattering of women and the young adding a bit of diversity. Unlike most rectangular venues where the stage is at one end along the short edge, unusually here the stage runs a good two-thirds along the length of the narrow room, sacrificing depth for width. The upshot is that more of the audience can get closer to the band, lending the place a unique ambiance.
The space filled quickly for support act The Commoners. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, the four-piece joined on tour by a fifth member, organist Miles Evan Branagh, trade in riff heavy roots rock with a classic early 70s feel and a dose of southern fried seasoning. The band quickly found favour with the core audience who clearly appreciated a throwback sound to the likes of The Allmans, Free or Whitesnake. Even down to the wispy beard, vocalist/guitarist Chris Medhurst looks just like my mate Nigel from Exeter University circa 1973 which somewhat dates the look of the band. Ross Citrullo was the furious fingered lead guitarist, even leading off some songs with a solo, while bassist Ben Spiller and drummer Adam Cannon provided a solid backcloth as the Canadians breezed through an eight-song set.
Mixing tracks from the band’s 2022 album, Find A Better Way, with new material from its upcoming record, The Commoners rocked the joint with a high octane set with Chris Medhurst a compelling frontman. Two songs mid-set especially stood out for me, the storming and strongly harmonious “Devil Teasing’ Me” accompanied by a second shout-out for Planet Rock Radio and the boldly anthemic “Restless” which the singer announced as the title track off the forthcoming album. Closing the set with the title track from its 2022 album, The Commoners deservedly exited to rousing acclaim from a packed crowd.
All photos of Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton and The Commoners at the 100 Club by Kevin England
While blues rock is outside of the genres I tend to major on in this weekly digest, I have always held a candle for it and after randomly hearing tonight’s headliners, Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton, and writing about them a couple of times, I was intrigued to see how they would replicate live the chemistry they clearly have on record. It was not going to disappoint. Accompanied by Ron Johnson on bass, Mickey Finn on keys (just slipped that one in) and drummer Jamie Douglass, Samantha Fish took the stage in a classic black leather biker jacket, matching spray-on spandex trousers and yellow stilettos, a latter-day bad girl Sandy from Grease. Girls have all the fun. Twenty-three years her elder, Texan Jesse Dayton was dressed contrastingly in downbeat black though the ‘odd couple’ soon united in guitar wizardry.
The ground was hit running with a no holes barred cover of MC5’s raw punk anthem “Kick Out the Jams” with Samantha signalling to the sound booth as her vocal was a little drowned out at times amid the battery of power. The level was quickly restored by the second song, the title track groove from the pair’s inaugural album, Death Wish Blues, in which she shared vocal duties and guitar lines with Jesse Dayton demonstrating that this is a partnership of equals. The entire album got an airing interspersed with a stack of covers, each with their individual highpoints. In the first half of the set, I particularly warmed to Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger” with Samantha’s Kansas City drawl taking on the soulful flavour of a 60s girl group lead aided by some colourful keyboard fills.
Songs from the duo songwriter-guitarists own catalogue also got an airing with Samantha Fish contributing “Bulletproof” featuring her vintage cigar box guitar and a wailing, rebellious vocal. The combination of the former’s slide guitar with her playing partner’s rock guitar gave this song an added bite live while Ron Johnson’s agile bass - a delight throughout the evening - and Jamie Douglass’s powerhouse drums drove it to new heights. Later, Jesse Dayton’s wistful country blues number, “Baby’s Long Gone”, found its perfect space in a short acoustic break mid-set. This followed a sublime cover of the late Townes Van Zandt’s “I’ll Be Here In The Morning”, a recording of which can be found on the pair’s first collaboration in 2022, the three-track EP Stardust Sessions.
After the relative delicacy of the two song acoustic break, the full band returned to air the doomed illicit relationship of “Lover on the Side” although Samantha kept her acoustic guitar to provide the rhythm while Jesse switched to electric lead to cut loose fully on some exhilarating licks. Imitating a lovers’ conversation in song saw the pair playfully trading vocal lines throughout.
More variety in tone was introduced in the shape of the fast n’ funky album track, “Supadupabad” while Jamie ramped up the drums even more during the rollicking riff-laden “Flooded Love”. It was like John Bonham jamming with Ronnie Vannucci Jr on one kit. Samantha’s cigar box guitar returned for “Rippin' and Runnin'”, a song highlighted by great dynamics while she put heart and soul into band’s version of the classic “I Put a Spell on You” both vocally and on guitar. The set found a natural conclusion in the tongue in cheek ode to the rock n’ roll lifestyle, “Riders”. The song combines many of the key elements that give the duo’s music its distinction: a dirty funk riff highlighted with blues licks, squalls of slide guitar and some mean trading of verses.
Of course, that was not quite it. Two encores merged together in a storm of rock excess, maximum volume and majestic soloing. What worked so well throughout the evening was the result of the melting pot of ideas and influences that Samantha Fish and Jesse Drayton bring from their individual corners. They have a genuinely shared spirit. This is music from the heart, energetic and inspiring with nothing held back and the full house at The 100 Club could not get enough of it. My ears also kept the memory of it ringing until around noon the next day. Proud and a wee bit loud too.
Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist October 2023
On the first Friday of each month, I publish a Playlist on Spotify which includes all the songs featured in this column over the previous month. Not just that, but in order too! So, our Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist October 2023 includes all 24 songs from the month’s Fifty3 Fridays opening with the rattling “Gatling Gun” from the sparkling Shai Brides and reaching a heady conclusion with the marvellous Venus Grrrls who are about to cast a “Hex”.
Follow me on Spotify at TonyHardy53 for 34 of these monthly playlists plus others to keep you sane during the night terrors.