Review: Samantha Fish Love Letters Tour w/ Eric Johanson

Samantha Fish put a “spell on me” at the Commonwealth Room on Thursday, September 28, 2023. And, I wasn’t the only one who was mesmerized. With her Marilyn Monroe glamour and a cigar box guitar in hand, she captivated the packed house with a sensual, artful blues performance. She immediately commanded the stage with her smoking rendition of “Bulletproof.” She then tore into a dizzying set of “Wild Heart” and “Better Be Lonely” and a sing-a-long “Chills and Fever.” Never tentative, she took us on an emotional roller coaster ride of hard driving rockin’ blues numbers interspersed with soulful ballads, from “Love Letters” to “Faster” to the hip-shaking “Somebody’s Always Trying.” 

Fish comes out of the Kansas City blues scene and now hails from New Orleans, but her style transcends any place or time. She tackled Charley Patton’s 1930 Delta Blues “Jim Lee Blues Pt. 1,” like a master. She followed it with a country blues original “Need You More.” Musically, she took us through punk, rock, blues, and country without attaching any permanent labels to her sound. Her stellar three-piece band comprising drums, bass and keyboards provided her guitar riffs with the depth her 15-song set needed to shake the rafters.

Fish showed off her vocal chops with “Dream Girl” then donned her slide guitar for “Black Wind Howlin’.” Before we could catch our breath, she returned for her encore and dazzled us with an incredible rendition of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins 1956 hit “I Put A Spell On You.” Fish’s version did just that. It didn’t have the macabre, voodoo campiness of the original, instead Fish gave it an intoxicating and seductive, blues flair that took the well-covered classic to unmatched artistic heights. Opener Eric Johanson joined her on stage for some dueling guitar magic on the spirited rocker “Bitch On The Run.” She had the crowd singing the chorus “Right Now, Right Now I’m Feeling It” when she ended her show. Fish is a larger-than-life performer with an arsenal of great songs and a commanding stage presence. To see her live, in an intimate setting, is always a transcending experience. She definitely rocks the blues!

New Orleans-based guitarist and Louisiana native, Eric Johanson opened the evening with his blend of heavy metal blues. Accompanied by drums and bass, Johanson started us off with a guitar-ripping “Undertow,” a tune from his new album The Deep and The Dirty. Johanson infused his nine-song set with plenty of material from his latest album including the title track. His rendition of “Live Oak” from his 2017 Burn It Down, delighted his fans with a familiar favorite. 

His sound reminds me of British heavy blues guitarists like Alvin Lee or Rory Gallagher who built upon Hendrix’s psychedelic blues in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Johanson played “Elysian Fields,” a driving rock number that retains the New Orleans blues flavor. “She Is The Song,” probably my favorite of the set, delivered the kind of soulful blues tempo that I love. He ended with a thunderous, Hendrix-esque, “Don’t Hold Back.” Johanson didn’t hold anything back and he set the pace for an epic night of rockin’ blues. Special thanks to the Utah Blues Society for sponsoring this amazing night.

Fun Fact: The inspiration for this year’s Love Letters Tour is the introspective documentary Love Letters: Samantha Fish Live from New Orleans that first aired on PBS in May. You can view the short film by clicking here.

Who: Samantha Fish w/ Eric Johanson

What: Love Letters Tour

Where: The Commonwealth Room

When: Thursday, September 28, 2023


John Nelson
John Nelson
John Nelson covers the local music scene for Salt Lake magazine. He is a 20-year veteran of Uncle Sam’s Flying Circus with a lifelong addiction to American roots music, live music venues, craft beer and baseball.

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