To a deafening chant of “Toon Army”, Sam Fender stomps onto his hometown stage. The crowd, a sea of fluttering Newcastle flags, is ready to welcome their prodigal son home – and judging by the way Fender launches fiercely into ‘Will We Talk?’ and ‘Getting Started’, he’s glad to be back.
Fender hails from North Shields – a figurative stone’s throw away from tonight’s concert at Newcastle’s Utilita arena – and since landing a breakout hit with ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ in 2019, he’s been proud to wear his Geordie upbringing on his sleeve.
When Fender launches into the subdued riff of ‘Dead Boys’ – a song about the male suicide epidemic – and dedicates the song to “all the ones who didn’t make it tonight”, the audience is hushed. As a million bright lights dance across the venue’s ceiling and Fender sings “Nobody ever could explain / All the dead boys in our hometown“, the song clearly hits home. Perhaps nobody can explain the situation, but many in the arena certainly seem to feel it.
It’s a powerful moment, and Fender gives it some room to breathe, as ‘Mantra’ – followed by ‘Better of Me’ and ‘The Borders’ – works to gradually pick the pace back up. Despite the grim subject matter of the songs (each deals with angst and emotional pain), a flurry of scratchy guitar solos and rousing brass segments keep the gig’s energy alive. It’s not long until Fender is tearing the roof off with ‘Spice’ and ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’ with riotous mosh pits and flares bursting to life.
He keeps a close eye on the crowd throughout the night, and several times pauses the gig to check on concert-goers and assist security, who receive their own round of applause. Endearingly, as Fender dedicates ‘Spit Of You’ to “all the Geordie parents out there”, a ripple of hugs and applause runs through the crowd. By the time he welcomes his brother Liam to the stage for an impassioned run at ‘The Dying Light’, crediting his older sibling for his every success, the arena feels like a big, loving Geordie family.
When Fender returns to the stage for an encore, he demands “all of the Toon” belt out his closing songs. With riveting performances of ‘Saturday’ and ‘Seventeen Going Under’, the star gets his wish. Though much of the star’s delicate lyricism hits particularly close to home tonight, he never stops wielding the roaring crowd like a live wire, with a talent that defies his youth.
The term ‘Geordie Springsteen’ is often used to describe Fender, but the artist – who recently took home two prestigious gongs at the BandLab NME Awards – is so much more than that. Forget The Boss: with tonight’s adoring hometown crowd, he seems perfectly happy being the Toon’s beloved bairn.
Sam Fender played:
- ‘Will We Talk?’
- ‘Getting Started’
- ‘Dead Boys’
- ‘Better Of Me’
- ‘The Borders’
- ‘Spit Of You’
- ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’
- ‘Get You Down’
- ‘Play God’
- ‘The Leveller’
- ‘The Dying Light’
- ‘Seventeen Going Under’
- ‘Hypersonic Missiles’