A terrific, exhilarating live show…

ClashMusic

03 · 04 · 2022

Brighton is as far from home as Sam Fender can get without leaving the UK. It’s symbolic of how far the 27-year-old has come from his working-class upbringing in North Shields. His career—like the motorik drum beats that drive his uplifting heartland compositions—is defined by unceasing momentum. Not only did he lift himself and his mam out of poverty with a chart-topping, award-winning sophomore album, major festival slots, and a sold-out arena tour, his music—grittily realistic yet unflinchingly hopeful—illuminates a path for today’s adolescents who are on their way under, those who need a reminder of what’s possible.  

Fender arrives on stage to jubilant cheering and dressed in an oversized pink jersey. He went to the dentist earlier in the day and praises the local dental services, the indistinctness of his Geordie accent exacerbated by the giddy buzz of the set’s opening moments (and toothache). Known for his personable, down-to-earth demeanour and hilarious interviews, Fender speaks without a modicum of ostentation, perplexed by the fact that the 4,500-capacity venue is the smallest one of the nine-date tour. “Brighton, you got a set of lungs on ya!” he chuckles at one point.  

The crowd is electric—especially for hump day—and although the TikTok gaggle’s presence is apparent from the number of phones in the air, there’s a ragbag of all ages. Groups of lads with arms around one another, spilling pints, chant the “woah oh” refrain from ‘Seventeen Going Under’ long before the song is performed. Moshers take advantage of the punkier tracks. And ‘Mantra’ provokes nudges between couples. “‘Please stop trying to impress people who don’t care about you’/I repeat as a mantra”—the truism sounds veritably profound when Fender delivers it, his voice resounding with sagacity and empathy.  

The setlist is evenly split between older songs and ones from last year’s coming-of-age opus Seventeen Going Under. But it’s noteworthy that the show opens and closes with tracks from Hypersonic Missiles (‘Will We Talk?’ and the title track, respectively), which speaks again to the singer’s respect for his roots. The newer songs provoke stronger reactions, but when Fender announces that the slow songs are out of the way and charges into the flanging guitar intro of ‘The Borders’, the current that surges through the audience is so thrilling it makes me want to quit my job and head north.  

After an urgent toilet break, Fender opens the encore with an extended intro to singalong jolly ‘Saturday’. It’s in these moments, just him and his guitar, that the strength of his vocal and command of the crowd is crystalline, his deservedness of this stage unquestionable. The title track from his latest album arrives at the 11th hour. Its glistening guitars coalesce with Johnny ‘Blue Hat’ Davis’ inspiriting saxophone solo. “I see my mother/The DWP see a number/She cries on the floor encumbered/I’m seventeen going under”—the blue-collar foundation on which Fender has built his success makes it feel like a privilege to return each lyric to him.  

A chasm between rock music’s newbies and the big boy mainstays—e.g. Green Day and Foo Fighters—has widened over the last decade, and the devastating passing of Taylor Hawkins reminds us that everything can change in a moment. Fender put on an arena show—confetti cannons and ambitious backdrop animations, goosebump-inducing crowd participation and a setlist structured like a film, ebbing and flowing towards a cathartic apex. He was born to do this—it’s in his name. Sam Fender gives me hope for the future. Main stage rock music is safe in his hands.

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Words: Hayden Merrick

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