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Samantha Fish heats up a hometown crowd with a potent dose of soul, rock and blues

Fish has matured and flourished in every facet of her game: vocally, instrumentally, as a band leader and as an entertainer.
Fish has matured and flourished in every facet of her game: vocally, instrumentally, as a band leader and as an entertainer.

On the first evening of her two-night stay at Crossroads KC, Samantha Fish gave an enthusiastic hometown crowd of 500 or so a heady Friday night dose of her latest sound: old-school soul dipped and deep-fried in horn-fed garage rock and the blues.

Formerly the leader of a guitar/bass/drum trio that dabbled in and experimented with various strains of the blues, Fish now leads a six-piece band that includes a trumpeter, a saxophonist — the High Maintenance Horns, she called them — and a keyboardist. Together they muster the sonic might of a larger orchestra, sounding bigger and brassier than a sextet.

Fish employs them all deftly in the songs that constitute her new album, “Chills and Fever,” a collection of retro-soul covers to which she applies her own flavors, accents and twists. On the recording, most of the songs come and go in potent bursts of four minutes or less. Live, she and the band stretch those songs out, creating space for Fish to execute and show off her considerable, at times electrifying skills on the guitar, be it an electric, an acoustic or her cigar-box guitar, with and without a slide. Her fluency throughout was impressive, especially from someone who undertakes nearly all the vocal responsibilities.

She performed for about 110 minutes, showcasing much of the material on “Chills and Fever” but also tapping into previous recordings, most substantially “Wild Heart,” her fresh and savvy manipulation of the Delta blues.

Fish, 28, has been performing in Kansas City since her early teens. Her break-out year came in 2011, when she released her debut “Runaway” album and was also part of the Girls With Guitars trio along with Dani Wilde and Cassie Taylor.

Since then, Fish has matured and flourished in every facet of her game: vocally, instrumentally, as a band leader and as an entertainer. She has developed an ease and charm on stage that some artists twice her age would covet.

She introduced her band halfway through the set, giving each another moment to solo: Chris Alexander on bass; Kenny Tudrick on drums; Mark Levron on trumpet; Travis Blotsky on saxophones; and Phil Breen on keyboards.

The set list included the title track to “Chills and Fever,” a groovy, gritty soul tune with an Amy Winehouse vibe; her sweet cover of “Hello Stranger,” a soul/R&B tune that was a hit for Barbara Lewis in the 1960s and then Yvonne Elliman in the late 1970s; her swampy, acoustic-blues cover of Charley Patton’s “Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1,” which included a volcanic keyboard interlude from Breen; “Lost Myself,” a “Wild Heart” track that opened as a smoldering, slow-moving blues ballad, then erupted into something much louder and more cathartic; the title track to “Runaway,” a grimy, galloping blues shuffle that featured one of the evening’s many incendiary guitar instrumentals from Fish; “It’s Your Voodoo Working,” a swinging deep-dish soul/blues number from “Chills and Fever”; and a visceral rendition of the Delta blues classic “Crow Jane,” in which Fish conjured all kinds of soulful, bluesy thunder as she applied the slide to her cigar-box guitar and sang a few bars through a megaphone.

She ended with a two-song encore: “Go Home,” a folk-blues lament from the “Wild Heart” album; and “Bitch on the Run,” a scabrous, Stones-y rock-blues anthem during which Fish choreographed a crowd sing-along to the chorus, which aptly described the vibe in the venue all night: “Right now, right now I’m feelin’ it.” If you didn’t make it to Friday’s show, go to Saturday’s and feel it yourself.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain


Samantha Fish performs Saturday night at Crossroads KC. Also on the bill: Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and Moreland & Arbuckle. Show time is 7 p.m.