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Blues in the rain: Samantha Fish battles the elements at Knuckleheads

Samantha Fish showcased songs from her upcoming album, “Wild Heart,” Saturday at Knuckleheads.
Samantha Fish showcased songs from her upcoming album, “Wild Heart,” Saturday at Knuckleheads. Special to the Star

Torrents of water streamed from the roof of the stage when Katy Guillen & the Girls opened Saturday’s concert at Knuckleheads. The show concluded more than three hours later with headliner Samantha Fish leading her band on a scorching cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” during a torrential downpour.

While the rain let up only occasionally on the soggy Saturday night, the music was relentlessly torrid.

Playing the first portion of its 50-minute opening set behind a liquid curtain didn’t faze the three members of Guillen’s band.

The appealing blues-rock power trio performed with infectious enthusiasm. Guillen is an energetic guitarist and vocalist. Bassist Claire Adams rarely stopped smiling. Stephanie Williams played with the gusto of the Muppets’ drummer Animal.

The band’s muscular boogie didn’t vary much, but Katy Guillen & the Girls demonstrated why they’ve become one of Kansas City’s most popular bands.

A representative of Ruf Records introduced Fish. The German label will release “Wild Heart,” Fish’s third solo album, in July. Saturday’s show served as an early record release party for her hometown fans.

Fish, 25, has built an international reputation as a powerhouse blues-rock musician with an enormous voice and tremendous skill as a guitarist. She also combines the artful sensitivity of Bonnie Raitt and the effortless swagger of the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards.

Fish performed plenty of blustery music during her two-hour performance, but a few hushed acoustic-based songs provided the evening’s highlights.

Joined by Guillen and Adams, Fish played a lovely version of Charley Patton’s “Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1.” An innovative arrangement of Junior Kimbrough’s “I’m in Love With You” transformed the raw blues composition into a gorgeous pop song.

Guillen and Adams also added background vocals to “Highway’s Holding Me Now” and “Place to Fall,” impressive new songs that indicate that “Wild Heart” is likely to garner favorable comparisons to the recent work of blues-rock masters like Joe Bonamassa.

Revivals of a few older songs, including the sultry interpretation of “Black Wind Howlin’” that inspired an uptick of suggestive dancing among the audience of several hundred, indicated that Fish doesn’t intend to abandon her roots.

The sturdy backing of bassist Chris Alexander and drummer Go Go Ray provided an unwavering link between the old and new material.

Even so, the rain prevailed. By the end of the evening, most fans had taken refuge in the indoor area of the nightclub, leaving a nearly empty gulf between the musicians and the audience.