Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
It’s a Sunday evening but Bristol bustles, it’s what Bristol does after all. Now considered a hub of creative media the one-time major port boasts a large number of venues offering a diverse menu of entertainment. Bristol is a city not without its tales and SWX is no different.
A couple of years ago, just ahead of a post-Covid opening, SWX suffered a completely pointless arson attack. With the perpetrator securely ensconced at his Majesty’s pleasure gig-goers can once again flood through its repaired entrance.
There’s a lengthy pre-doors queue that snakes about the corner and out of sight towards The Galleries. From underneath his stovepipe the ingenious I.K. Brunel watches on approvingly as this evening the howling freight train that is the ‘Death Wish Blues’ European tour, billowing steam and smoke with burning sparks flying into the night skies, pulls into the city.
Featuring the conflagrant six-string aptitudes of Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton this is the tour born of the same album released back in May. A rip-roaring collection of a dozen original penned tracks, all bar one aired here this evening, it followed their Stardust Sessions EP of six months prior. There’s much to look forward to absolutely no doubt of it.
The announcement of Canadian bourbon-blended rockers The Commoners as the tour’s support served as further reason not to miss. We, like a good few in this evening, caught this Toronto five-piece across the city centre at the Louisiana on their co-headline tour with Troy Redfern and left suitably impressed. With a sterling album, in the form of the southern blues of ‘Find A Better Way’, firmly tucked under their belt this quintet could be forgiven for leaning heavily up it.
The pure Southern groove and driving rhythms of ‘More Than Mistakes’ illuminates the room right from the off. The imperious eagle flies high above surveying the unbridled trucking. Comparisons of expressive frontman Chris Medhurst are natural but in amongst it there’s sparks of Paul Rodgers. “What’s going on Bristol?” he enquires, no doubt keen not to repeat his mistake of greeting Oxford during the aforementioned Louisiana gig.
The low-slung southern drawl of new track ‘Shake You Up’ shows the highway ahead with SWX filling up with very healthy-sized Sunday crowd. Medhurst takes a close inspection of Ross Hays Citrullo’s Les Paul, from where we’re stood it’s in fine fettle. The heartlands contagion of ‘Who Are You?’ remains from their first visit to these shores and is made most welcome as it garners a good reception.
Medhurst gives a shout out to Planet Rock for giving their latest single ‘Devil Teasin’ Me’, a track that goes directly for the jugular with Medhurst and Citrullo back-to-back as Miles Evans-Branagh’s smoking keys shine brightly. “I feel the devil teasing me” evokes Medhurst as the band firmly grasp Deep Purple and drop them right into the centre of the Nevada desert.
Introduced as the title track of their forthcoming second album ‘Restless’ rides, soulfully, upon the clouds that dash across the blue skies above the plains. There’s an infectious hook that abounds with the bait of lines such as “The road never answers” proving totally irresistible. It’s chockful of sentiment and emotions a potent combination that captivates in a spell-binding weave.
A quiet moment between tracks and from the crowd a hearty “Good on you boys!” emanates before Jon Lord styled keyed notes herald the hefty 70s grooved tones of another new number ‘The Way I Am’ – this incoming studio offering is sure shaping up well.
Bassist Ben Spiller expresses the collective gratitude “Thank you for sharing the evening with us” he proffers prior to cranking up the set to a climatic ending with the ascending serenity of ‘Fill My Cup’ replete with its low-down solo and ‘Find A Better Way’, their first titular track, heavenly in its southern vibrancy. The midnight interstate stretches out ahead with the guiding spirit of the hunting owl a reassuring presence as we eagerly head towards the next album.
Four dates into the ten that comprise the UK leg of the ‘Death Wish Blues’ tour and it’s completely apparent the on-stage chemistry that Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton share via the medium of good ol’ fashioned rock n’ roll. Their output is gloriously dirty and gritty with the granular edges they both possess sparking in wild abandon.
Yet somehow through the mellifluous miasma that enthrals there are plentiful moments where this duo neatly dovetails as if guided by the hands of an unseen master carpenter. There’s shared smiles and quick glances with glints of combined mischief in their eyes. This is stuff that can’t be taught nor gleaned from any textbook; this is derived from the purest of diamond souls and burning ruby hearts. It doesn’t require words, the unspoken is of a natural source without question nor needing of debate.
From the powering moment they surge forth with a barnstorming air of MC5’s ‘Kick Out The Jams’ the die is set. The crucible pours wave after wave of volcanic blues until the final eruption of R.L. Burnside’s ‘Goin’ Down South’ that hollers right out of its Mississippi lair. We’re given an express ride through the blues homelands right down to the deepest depths of the devil’s realm landing back at that very crossroad to complete the requisite paperwork.
With hypnotic swaggers ‘Deathwish’, the first track off ‘Death Wish Blues’ to be aired, drags the Rolling Stones kicking and screamer right down into the swamplands. There’s no messing with Dayton wringing out the fieriest of solos from his fret, Fish an absolute powerhouse alongside. The railroad goods rattle on in with the underworldly lord striding amongst us as Junior Parker’s ‘Feels So Good’ is given a juggernauting blues rock feel.
Cover versions pepper the set throughout but not in any sort of invasive way, quite the reverse in fact. They’re brought in to bask in the warmth of the fire, embraced and reworked to fit quite seamlessly into the well-crafted proceedings. Barbara Lewis’ US Billboard smash ‘Hello Stranger’ receives a glowing makeover with this delicate flower of a number empowering the might of the soul greats.
As the set winds and meanders the pure witchcraft of ‘I Put A Spell On You’ is upon the receiving end of a Cajun incantation that takes things down with a darkened force. Such is the enthralment if a pin were to drop it would make a din; Screamin’ Jay Hawkins would be moved.
In amongst everything there’s room for Fish to slot in her foot-stomping cigar-box riffing ‘Bulletproof’; thunderous and unrelenting it quakes the deltalands and threatens to cave in SWX’s roof. The bayou burns a gin-like flame as ‘Rippin’ and Runnin’’ twist and turns like a scalded rattlesnake as Fish picks up her cigar box guitar for a second time.
Industrially craned in from the Stardust Sessions, last year’s EP that kickstarted things for Dayton and Fish, we’re presented a rumbustious strongarm rock n’ rolled ‘Brand New Cadillac’ early doors that cascades and tumbles seemingly carefree. Dayton, clearly enjoying the reception, reaches out his Telecaster towards the barrier at track end. We’re straying away from the realms that Fish normally occupies but this is a musician that can turn their hand to most things for sure and she looks supremely comfortable.
With their band departing mid-set Fish and Dayton switch to acoustic guitars for a couple of tracks. ‘I’ll Be There In The Morning’, also from the ‘Stardust’ EP, coruscates acoustically and slots in well with the lonesome railroad tones of ‘Baby’s Long Gone’. The down switch in tempo works well and it’s great to hear these numbers stripped right back.
About half their set comprises of material from ‘Death Wish Blues’ with Dayton’s custom-made horned King guitar – courtesy of his Californian buddy Jason Burns – ripping the very guts out of ‘Trauma’ in impassioned manner. Fish remains on acoustic whilst Dayton switches back to full electric for the howling overnight one way ticket of ‘Lover On The Side’ before they engage and joyfully wrestle with ‘Supadupabad’. The Duane Eddy inspired vibes of moody blues rocker ‘Flooded Love’ scorch heavenwards a little while prior to the funky overtones of ‘Riders’ providing total blues joy to bring the main body to a crescendo.
With the crowd raucously baying for more before the last notes subside Dayton signals with two fingers giving hint of what the encore might give. However, given the slight delay in starting coupled with what must be a tight curfew means that’s there’s just time to storm through ‘Going Down South’. No complaints though as we’ve been taken by the hand through over one hundred scintillating minutes with Dayton and Fish whipping up the veritable force 12!
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM