When he burst onto the scene with his debut album ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ in 2019, North Shields’ Sam Fender backed up the hype following his BBC Sound of 2018 and Brits Critics Choice nods. The 27-year-old returned earlier this year with the outstanding new single ‘Seventeen Going Under’, the title track from his forthcoming second album, a signal of intention with one of his finest releases to date confirming that this talented singer-songwriter is showing no signs of resting on debut successes.
He took to the stage at Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse for a second sold out night on Thursday last week, joined as always by his tight-knit band comprising childhood friends, an example of the down-to-earth, grounded character Sam has been perceived as since entering the limelight. Opening with an elongated intro version of single ‘Will We Talk?’, the loud Mancunian crowd was in the palm of his hands from the get-go, singing back every line to the 2019 hit.
We know Sam isn’t all about the indie dancefloor fillers, with a quick reduction in pace seeing the emotional and poignant ‘Dead Boys’ being dedicated to his hometown. ‘All is On My Side’, the track that Sam explained to the crowd bridged the gap between the first and second album to keep fans interested, followed, before the Warehouse party really got going as Fender launched into his ‘favourite track from the debut album’, ‘The Borders’, arguably Sam’s best work to date.
Traditionally, Fender would command the crowd to form mosh pits ahead of the the upcoming run of more rowdy numbers, ‘Spice’ and ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’, the latter of which gave the crowd its first taste of the Geordie’s latest chapter. However, following a fan injury at Neighbourhood Weekender and a delay to resuming the set, Sam was less keen to promote it this time around and instead told fans if they wanted to go wild, go wild, but look after on another in the process, and so they did.
Now it was time for the new track, the Radio X Record of the Week at the time, ‘Get You Down’. An instant fan favourite even prior to official release, it was probably little surprise to Fender that most of the Manchester crowd knew the track word-for-word. Then into the title track, ‘Seventeen Going Under’, the ‘Borders’ of the second album, and a front-running contender for song of the year in 2021. Fans bellowing already iconic lines such as ‘I would hit him in a heartbeat now’ and ‘canny chanter but he looks sad’, the reaction was a clear indication of the reception expected from the forthcoming record.
Sam left the stage to early single ‘Play God’, and even managed to lead the crowd in a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for his bandmate, Joe Atkinson, before returning for a solo encore. Explaining to the crowd that he confused chants of ‘BRUCE’ for boos during the previous night in Manchester, Fender proceeded with a cover of ‘Dancing in the Dark’, a nod to his idol and clear source of influence and inspiration, Bruce Springsteen.
Explaining to fans about the new record, Sam said he had hundreds of songs to choose from and many of his favourites didn’t make the cut. As a treat, he invited saxophonist Johnny Blue Hat out onto stage to play one of the unfortunate omissions, ‘Wild Grey Ocean’. He then kicked the crowd back into gear with ‘Saturday’, with fans raising the roof for many audience-only repetitions of the famous chorus. And to close, in the midst of the ‘woah-oh-woahs’ from the crowd anticipating what was to come next, the set closed in style on the incredible ‘Hypersonic Missiles’.
A 13-strong setlist, short but sweet some may say, but with Sam having a long run of headline and festival dates, maybe one eye was on previous voice troubles which forced Sam into sadly cancelling pre-pandemic gigs. The one thing we can draw from this performance is that Sam Fender is undoubtedly a major festival headliner in the making, with an outstanding live presence to match the songwriting talent and unique vocal ability. We now look forward to the release of new album ‘Seventeen Going Under’, out Friday 8th October!
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