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Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

Despite a wet journey and a change in ‘doors’ time, the O2 Institute in Birmingham fizzed with electricity as the collected, some wet, fans, waited with anticipation for the night to begin.

The Commoners took to the stage, opening for the renowned Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton on their ‘Death Wish Blues Tour.’ Hailing from Toronto, Canada, this, (now a) robust 5-piece, brought a refreshing blend of hard-hitting Southern Blues/Roots/Rock to the delighted UK audience.

The Commoners, consisting of lead vocalist and guitarist Chris Medhurst, guitarist Ross Hayes Citrillo, bassist Ben Spiller, drummer Adam Cannon, and now keyboard player Miles Evans-Branagh, wasted no time in setting the tone for the night.

The opening track, “More Than Mistakes,” hit the audience like a sonic punch to the gut. The gritty vocals of Chris Medhurst cut through the air, complemented by the wailing guitars of Citrillo, creating a raw and unapologetic sound that instantly grabs the attention of the crowd.

As they seamlessly transitioned into “Shake You Off,” a track from their album of the same name, the vibe shifted to a more groove-oriented, bluesy feel. The song’s infectious rhythm had the audience swaying, and it was evident that The Commoners were not just here to warm up the stage but to leave a lasting impression.

“Who Are You?” followed, showcasing the band’s versatility. The song, from their debut album “No Stranger,” displayed a blues-infused sound with a touch of Southern soul. The interplay between the guitars of Medhurst and Citrillo was a highlight, creating a rich sound that resonated throughout the venue.

“Devil Teasin’ Me” brought a darker and edgier tone to the set. The vocals of Medhurst, took on a haunting quality, perfectly complemented by the brooding backline and the searing guitar work. The Commoners weren’t just playing songs; they were weaving a sonic narrative that had the audience light in their loafers.

Introducing a couple of new songs into the set, the band showcased their evolving sound. “Restless” was met with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, indicating that The Commoners had successfully bridged the gap between familiarity and innovation. The raw energy of the performance, combined with the infectious melody of the new track, leaving a lasting impression.

“The Way I Am” followed suit, offering another glimpse into the band’s evolving musical landscape. The crowd, already treated to one new song, found themselves spoilt with this, a second. The Commoners, with their dynamic stage presence, had the audience hooked, eagerly anticipating what they would deliver next. Announcing that they only had a couple more songs brought about more cheers from the partisan crowd.

“Fill My Cup” brought a feel-good vibe to the set, with its infectious rhythm and spirited guitar play. The band’s chemistry was intense, each member feeding off the other’s energy, creating a cohesive and tight-knit musical unit.

Closing the set with “Find A Better Way,” The Commoners left the audience on a high note. The hot and sweaty atmosphere in the venue mirrored the intensity of the band’s performance. The song served as a perfect set closer, with its anthemic quality and relentless energy. The Commoners, in those final moments, proved that they were not just an opening act; they were a force to be reckoned with.

Throughout their set, The Commoners frequently acknowledged the headliners, Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton, with genuine admiration. The crowd, an enthusiastic blues audience, responded with cheers and applause, appreciating the camaraderie between the bands. It was evident that The Commoners were not just performers; they were also fans of the genre, paying homage to the blues roots that inspired their own music.

The Commoners’ performance was nothing short of electrifying. The band’s ability to seamlessly blend gritty vocals, soulful melodies, and hard-hitting Southern rock created a sonic experience that resonated with the audience. As they left the stage, the sweaty and satisfied crowd knew they had witnessed something special—a band on the rise, unapologetically embracing their roots while forging a path forward in the world of blues-infused rock.

As they cleared their kit from the stage they moved about the crowd, Medhurst and Citrillo took time to chat to the fans who swamped them as they made way for the headliners.

Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton took to the stage at the Birmingham O2 Institute, and in doing so, created a night that was a fusion of blues, rock, and pure musical prowess. The dynamic duo’s paths first crossed in the vibrant music scene of New Orleans, where Fish was establishing herself as a rising star in the blues world, and Dayton was a seasoned guitarist and songwriter with a deep country and rockabilly influence. Tonight, is set up to be a showcase of the new collaborative album “Death Wish Blues” mingled amongst solo work and the odd cover.

Let’s rewind a bit to understand the roots of these two exceptional artists. Samantha Fish, hailing from Kansas City, Missouri, burst onto the scene with her 2009 debut album, “Live Bait.” Her unique style, blending blues, rock, and soul, quickly garnered attention. Fish’s discography is a testament to her growth and versatility, with standout albums like “Belle of the West” (2017) and “Kill or Be Kind” (2019) showcasing her evolving sound.

Jesse Dayton, on the other hand, emerged from Beaumont, Texas, and carved his niche in the music world with a blend of honky-tonk, rock, and Americana. Dayton’s journey includes collaborations with iconic artists like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. His solo career boasts albums like “The Reveller” (2016) and “The Outsider” (2018), demonstrating his ability to seamlessly weave between genres.

They kicked the night off with a bang as they launched into “Kick Out the Jams,” a high-energy cover originally by ‘The MC5’, a legendary Detroit rock band known for their raw, rebellious sound. The crowd nodding in response to this electrifying opening number, this set the tone for the evening. ‘The MC5’, short for ‘Motor City 5’, were a pivotal part of the late 1960s counterculture movement, influencing punk rock and garage rock in the U.S.

Following the explosive start, the duo transitioned into “Deathwish,” a track that showcased Dayton’s gritty vocals and Fish’s masterful guitar work. The song , the title track on Fish’s /Dayton’s album “Death Wish Blues” (2023), an album that encapsulates the couples’ diverse musical influences, and features heavily in to-nights set.

“Feels So Good” by ‘Junior Parker’ is a soulful interlude, paying homage to the blues tradition. ‘Junior Parker’, a blues musician and singer, he left an indelible mark on the genre with his smooth, emotive style. This was followed up with Fish’s rendition of ‘Barbara Lewis’s’ “Hello Stranger” which added a touch of nostalgia. ‘Lewis’, a Soul and R&B singer from the 1960s, brought a sense of sophistication to the evening’s repertoire, another treat for the receptive crowd.

“Brand New Cadillac,” originally by ‘Vince Taylor and the Playboys’, injected a dose of rockabilly into the set. ‘Vince Taylor’, a British rock and roll singer, was a pivotal figure in the early days of rock music. Dayton’s guitar style kicking this one out hard as he crouches whilst he digs deep send a seismic shudder through the air.

The mood shifted with “Settle for Less,” a track that highlighted Fish’s bluesy vocals and the raw, unbridled guitar sound. The interaction between Fish and Dayton on stage was seamless, a testament to their musical chemistry, as this one rocked back and forth, the second track from their collaborative work “Death Wish Blues” (2023).

“Bulletproof,” a Sam Fish original from the album “Kill or Be Kind” (2019), showcased her song writing prowess and marked a poignant moment in the set. The crowd was captivated by the emotional depth of her performance. “Down In the Mud” transported the audience to the roots of blues, with Fish’s guitar echoing the soulful lament of the genre. The track features on the latest Fish, Dayton long player.

“No Apology,” continues the powerful performance, this is, once again from the new album, brings a honky-tonk vibe to the night, Dayton showcasing his ability to seamlessly shift between genres. Slipping effortlessly into “Trauma,” a powerful and emotive track, which offers a glimpse into Dayton and Fish’s ability to convey intense emotions through their music. The song is yet another from their new album, “Death Wish Blues” (2023).

A poignant moment arrived with the cover of ‘Townes van Zandt’s’ “I’ll Be Here in the Morning.” ‘Van Zandt’, a revered folk singer-songwriter, left an enduring legacy in the world of Americana music. The collaboration continued with Jesse Dayton’s and Shooter Jennings original, “Baby’s Long Gone.” The duet between Fish and Dayton created a magical synergy, blending their distinct styles seamlessly.

Five songs followed all from the new album, “Lover on the Side” and “Dangerous People” showcased the range of Fish’s vocal prowess, while “Supadupabad” and “Flooded Love” added a rockabilly and blues-infused energy to the set. “Rippin’ and Runnin'” displayed Dayton’s impeccable guitar skills, creating another showcase that drew big smiles and knowing head nods from the crowd.

The covers of “I Put a Spell on You” by ‘Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ and “7 and 7 Is” by ‘Love’ paid homage to the roots of rock and blues. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, known for his eccentric performances, was a pioneer in the blues and R&B scene, they finished the set with a rousing cheer from the crowd. .

The evening concluded with an encore that included “You Know My Heart” he last from the new collaborative work, and a thrilling rendition of R.L. Burnside’s “Goin’ Down South.” The guitar sounds throughout the night were a masterclass in skill and emotion, with Fish and Dayton feeding off each other’s energy, their styles perfectly segue together, give the crowd a blistering set of Blues Power.

It was obvious that Fish and Dayton had been touring the album for some months, the interaction between them, the playful exchanges and synchronized moments that spoke of their deep musical connection, appeared easy and genuine. The crowd, undoubtedly partisan in their enthusiasm, fuelled the performers, creating an electric atmosphere that lifted the venue despite the turmoil going on elsewhere in the world.

Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton’s set at the Birmingham O2 Institute was more than a celebration, or a showcase for the new album, it was a testament to the enduring power of blues and rock and the friendship that these two maestro’s have together. As the night, eventually, came to a close, it was obvious that the audience had witnessed a gig that spanned genres, decades, and emotions—a powerhouse display by two musicians at the very top of their field, here’s to the next collaboration.

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