Sam Fender is on the brink of releasing his sophomore album, Seventeen Going Under, on October 8th, which looks all but set to take him to that next level of superstardom.
His debut, Hypersonic Missiles, earned the singer swaths of critical acclaim and landed at the top spot of the UK charts. The tour that he’s currently embarking on was initially pencilled in to support his first album, however, the small matter of a global pandemic grinding the tour schedule to a halt meant that it’s only now the run of gigs can go ahead.
The 3,500 strong capacity crowd at Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse had been patiently waiting for this night for almost two years to the day since it sold out in a matter of minutes, and the tangible excitement gave the venue a carnival atmosphere before he’d even arrived on stage.
For many, this was their first gig of this scale in an inside venue with no restrictions in 18-months. As soon as I walked in, soaked in the smell of overpriced lager, it felt like nothing had changed.
Below are five stand-out moments from a thrilling set where Fender explained why he’s the centre of such wild hysteria.
Five things we learned from Sam Fender’s gig in Manchester:
He’s the new master of the B-side
The music industry is an ever-changing beast, and one thing left behind in the streaming takeover is the trusty old B-side. Not for Sam Fender, though, and ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’ went down like it was the A-side to ‘Seventeen Going Under’ at Victoria Warehouse as the crowd lost their minds and descended into a raucous moshpit.
Although not technically B-side, his early non-single track ‘Spice’ proved to be another moment of euphoria. Admittedly, that’s a strange word to describe a song about the deadly synthetic cannabis plant and its crippling effect on its users. People wanted to party on Wednesday evening, and these lyrics’ poignancy was lost on the rowdy crowd on this occasion.
Reception to new singles
Even though his album is out in less than a month, surprisingly, Fender only played two tracks that appear on the album during the set, but both ‘Seventeen Going Under’ and ‘Get You Down’ were received as glowingly as anything else he played during the night.
There was a thirst to hear these new singles, which made for a refreshing change from attending shows in which artists semi-apologise before playing anything from the album they are touring. Bizarrely, he chose to air the serene ‘The Wild Great Ocean’, which he told the crowd didn’t make the final cut for Seventeen Going Under.
Crowd in the palm of his hands
Despite not having a wealth of experience at playing live shows due to the touring of his first album marred by illness followed by the pandemic, you wouldn’t have guessed that from his stage control.
His likely lad persona meant that the atmosphere never soured even when the show ran into technical difficulties, and Fender managed to maintain everyone’s high spirits. The Geordie thankfully didn’t spend endless minutes telling anecdotes between songs, but he also talked enough to come across as affable without forgetting it’s a rock ‘n’ roll show.
Feel free to call him the ‘Geordie Springsteen’
Sometimes, artists can feel weighed down by being compared to a great like Bruce Springsteen, but instead, Fender has taken this into his stride and is having fun with it. He’s never hidden his admiration for The Boss, and one listen of ‘Get You Down’ is all you need to realise just how pivotal a role he’s had in shaping his sound.
When Fender made his way back onto the stage sans his band to perform a heartwrenching cover of ‘Dancing In The Dark’, swirls of emotion filled the room, and the years spent playing along to Born In The U.S.A. in his bedroom as a teenager in North Shields paid dividends.
The importance of ‘Dead Boys’
While Fender makes songs like ‘Saturday’ or ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ that can make the roof go off and send the place into a frenzied state, there’s also a dark, gritty underbelly to his songwriting like he shows on the heartbreaking ‘Dead Boys’.
The song tackles suicide among young males, which is a topic close to his heart. The 27-year-old recently told The Guardian, “I lost a good friend to suicide last year, and I’m not going to lie to you – over lockdown, and even before, I was in that sort of place myself.”
‘Dead Boys’ breaks a societal taboo, especially among the demographic in attendance on Wednesday evening, where discussing your feelings isn’t something that always comes naturally. Fender has rich substance to him, and he’s not making music for the sake of getting on the BBC Radio 1 playlist but trying to incite a difference on a wider scale.