By Paul Robicheau
While Samantha Fish shines with her guitar work on the new album, she impressed more with her singing live.
Apart from the end of the year and now the decade, the best night for a performing band is usually the end of a tour, when artists can leave it all on the stage. And contemporary blueswoman Samantha Fish reveled in the final show of a Northeast swing with an overly generous two-hour set at the Sinclair on Sunday.
Fish’s embossed silver minidress reflected blue and rose lighting to seasonal effect like the rippling hues on a draped backing curtain, while the platinum-blonde locks of her old-fashioned moll hairstyle flopped in tangled disarray, befitting the devil-may-care prowess she favors as a singer and guitarist.
The Kansas City native broadened her sound and style on 2019’s Kill or Be Kind as she aims to be a better songwriter and break the commercial constraints for a blues-rooted rocker. And Fish met the boost of a sold-out Sinclair crowd by playing most of that new album, including seven songs to start the show.
Lead track “Bulletproof” lent the opening broadside with Fish stroking its gnarly rock pulse with open swats of slide on a cigar-box guitar. Resembling a pint-sized version of Bo Diddley’s famous axe, that four-string guitar will be on display at the annual Samantha Fish Cigar Box Guitar Festival in New Orleans in mid-January.
Fish seemed a bit distracted in getting the guitar to sound right in her mix at the Sinclair. But almost as soon as she found its sweet spot, she turned to her favorite white SG for the album’s title track — and kept switching guitars throughout the show, favoring vintage-style Gibsons that included a burnished red Firebird.
However, while Fish shines with her guitar work on the new album, she impressed more with her singing live. At the Sinclair, she gestured to the pain of drowning in “Love Letters,” nestled in the country soul of “She Doesn’t Live Around Here,” and lifted “Fair-weather” as a triumphant torch blues, unstrapping her guitar to put sole focus on her voice as she surged up and down the scale with emotive tone.
Throughout the set, she reached for variety with the breezy Memphis feel of “Try Not to Fall in Love with You” (cushioned with trumpet and tenor sax from her fine five-piece band), the subtle glide “Dream Girl,” undercut with a synthesizer glide. She threw in a cover of R&B/soul nugget “Chills & Fever,” though she skipped a fine chance for a taste of her new Christmas single (where she fares better on a hearty “Christmas [Baby Please Come Home]” than “Run Run Rudolph”).
But except for a handful of Fish’s diehard fans, a two-hour set is hard to sustain for most artists without a classic catalog of their own songs – or a truly virtuosic band. The Sinclair crowd began to thin even before Fish returned on acoustic guitar for a four-song encore with opener Nicholas David, a onetime contestant on “The Voice” whose new album Yesterday’s Gone she produced. As gracious as Fish was to promote him, songs like David’s lilting country shuffle weren’t going to cut it like the night’s last round of electric fireworks with 2015 standby “Bitch on the Run.”
Beyond her cigar-box signature, 2020 looms with promise for Samantha Fish, who’s poised to rise in the new year — and decade — with each audience.
Paul Robicheau served as the contributing editor for music in The Improper Bostonian in addition to writing and photography for The Boston Globe, Rolling Stone and other publications.