I haven’t been to a show at a club like the Hard Rock since last summer, and I haven’t done a live show review in a long time! When I saw Samantha Fish was opening for Jimmie Vaughan I figured it was a good bill at a good price, and I was ready for a night out.
I got an email the day of the show with Hard Rock policies for masks, etc and it mentioned the show was sold out. When I got there it was anything but. In fact, I was the only person in row N, and there were only a handful behind me or in the balconies. Maybe a quarter full. Not good for the artists, but it was nice to have more personal space and not be so crowded. To be fair, it was a Thursday night but while the crowd was good and I enjoyed the evening, it was about the least crowded I’ve ever seen the Hard Rock.
The bartender asked me “Who are you here to see?” and my honest response was “both.” I had never seen Samantha Fish before, but I liked what I’ve heard on Spotify and Youtube. She’s certainly established herself as one of the female young guns of blues. Jimmie Vaughan is a legend, and the last time I saw him and the Tilt-A-Whirl band was probably 20 years ago. It was one of my favorite concerts ever – Junior Brown opened and just blew me away. My wife and I were either engaged or newly married, so we had that vibe going on. It was just a great party all night, which plastered a huge grin on my face the entire show. A few year ago I had a chance to see him at C-Boys in Austin but I didn’t end up going. I was just too exhausted at the end of the week. Anyways, for me Samantha Fish & Jimmie Vaughan was a really compelling package – one established newer artist, and one legend. Both blues, but very different. The pairing of two very different artists within the same loose genre works really well for me. A few years ago I saw Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Beth Hart together and that was a similar experience.
She came out in head-to-to red leather with her cigar box and was just ripping from note one. I think she’s established somewhat of a niche for herself with more focus on slide than some of her contemporaries. She can also belt on vocals, and that also separates her from others that might just be good on guitar. Her band added fantastic harmony vocals that filled out the sound and added depth. She played some older tunes, and some from her new album Faster. It was a great set full of barn-burners and slow R&B. She mixed it up well, and had a lot of variety in the 50-ish minute set.
She’s built a strong catalog of albums over the last decade, and it led to a set of all killer no filler. Her version of Kill or Be Kind was a lot different from the album, and I like when artists stretch out live a bit. There were long improvisational jams, as well as sing-along choruses. I left impressed and very happy I got to see her and her band live.
Special note to her drummer (Sarah), who had a killer, driving groove and provided consistently excellent harmony vocals. She added a LOT to the set, and I really enjoyed listening to her.
On the plus side, the Tilt-a-Whirl band was Tight with a capital T. Every break, every accent, every transition was simply perfect. They were amazing. As expected, Jimmie Vaughan’s guitar was a highlight. His style is so unique, mostly using his fingers and effortlessly gliding across the fretboard. He leveraged a capo on many songs, allowing him to apply signature licks in a manner not unlike fellow Texas legend Albert Collins. Jimmie Vaughan has that loose, traditional blues sound that few modern players achieve. Often understated but always perfect for the song, it was a joy to watch him plan. Mike Flanigan’s organ was powerful and soulful, and he can sing. I really enjoy their organ trio album (Live From C-Boys), and the songs that showcased Mike’s organ, and the interplay between Mike & Jimmie, were highlights.
On the downside, Jimmie really struggled with his vocals. Whether due to just not having it anymore, or not being able to hear himself, he was out of key and noticeably stretching most of the time. I hate to say it, but it was bad. Mike should have handled the vocals on everything. Another performance note that bothered me a bit was that he asked the audience “how are you doing out there” three times… Okay, i understand asking once as a standard live show trope. But three times? I don’t know why but it rubbed me the wrong way. I was thinking that if or when I start doing my own live shows again, I’m not going to ask the crowd how they’re doing. Instead I’m going to say “I’m feeling good tonight, how about you?” Anyways…
I did enjoy the music and the band. I get the sense it would have come across better in a small club or a bar like C-Boys, but not so much in a 3/4ths empty Hard Rock. It was almost too intimate for that venue.
It was a solid package of new and old, up-and-comer and legend. I’m glad I went and had a good time. Samantha Fish puts on a good show and has carved out a great niche for herself as a unique artist in contemporary blues. Jimmie Vaughan’s set was good overall, bolstered by his guitar and the tightness of the band, but his vocals and the somewhat slower, laid back nature of this band might not have been the best fit for the venue. Interestingly, the crowd seemed to be much more into Samantha Fish. Lots more specific cheering and more people wearing her t-shirts. After her set, she was signing merch at the table, and the line went all the way across the venue. It was probably the longest merch line I’ve ever seen. In fact, the line didn’t disperse until halfway through Jimmie Vaughan’s first song.