At first, the livestreams were an entertaining novelty – and a welcome respite from the tedium of lockdown. But it didn’t take lock for screen fatigue to set in (the glitchy connections! The terrible lighting!) and with normal gigs the reserve of idiots (and Smash Mouth fans) in our Covid-ravaged era, IRL connection has been the order of day for some time now. Enter hometown hero Sam Fender, who graces Newcastle’s drizzly Gosforth Park for this socially distanced celebration at the 2,500-capacity Virgin Money Unity Arena.
Fans watch in groups of five from 500 individual platforms set metres apart – the venue has been specially created to bring a bit of joy back into our lives – as opener Heidi Curtis, a local singer-songwriter, manoeuvres through her melancholic style of rock. It’s on brand that she throws in a cover of Stevie Nicks’ melodramatic classic ‘Edge of Seventeen’ for good measure.
And then the lights dim and the outdoor arena fills with the dearly missed familiar buzz of shrieking music fans. Fender played here on Tuesday, the country’s first major socially distanced show (The Libertines, Two Door Cinema Club and Supergrass will follow suit at the venue over the summer), and seems in confident spirits as he bursts onto the stage, accompanied by four Newcastle United football top-wearing trumpeters.
The Geordie’s debut album ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ rocketed to Number One last year, picking up critical plaudits along the way, and the opening riff of its Springsteen-style pop-rock gem ‘Will We Talk?’ immediately cuts through the fear that the socially distanced pods will prevent a sense of connection tonight. It’s as if this year’s hardships have only strengthened the audience’s love of live music, slice-of-life fan favourite ‘The Borders’ inciting a mass singalong that brings an endearing smile to Fender’s face.
The brooding ‘Play God’ and recent non-album single ‘Hold Out’, with its wonky ‘90s alt-rock chorus and schmaltzcore verse, proves the 26-year-old’s versatility. The stunning ‘Dead Boys’, whose lyrics tackle the devastating impact of male suicide, loses none of it intimacy and emotional potency in this strangest of settings. And he teases new material with heavy new song ‘The Kitchen’, suggesting that 2020 might not be so bad after all.
His encore features explosive renditions of ‘Poundshop Kardashians’ and ‘That Sound’, and he concludes with the epic ‘Hypersonic Missiles’. In the aftermath, the proud Geordie gazes out at the crowd in awe as a chant of “Toon Toon Toon!” fills the arena in his honour, seeming as humble as he was when he started out, despite his sky-rocketing fame. Ambitious, hard-working and always remembering his roots, Sam Fender encompasses everything it means to be from the North East.
Sam Fender played
‘Will We Talk?’
‘All Is on My Side’
‘17 Going Under’