In Britain, it’s traditional to go see fireworks on November 5th, so that’s exactly what I did. Those fireworks, though more metaphorical than literal, were set off by rising star Sam Fender, embarking on the sixth date of his current UK tour, hot off the back of singles Dead Boys and That Sound. He and his band packed out the basement of Manchester’s Soup Kitchen, and with good reason. Fender’s fiery, expressive vocal performances and swarming illustrious songs make for great entertainment, and the audience clearly had no qualms getting heartily involved with proceedings.
Yeah, there was a buzz. Everyone was planted and twitchy like TV static, waiting for the off, and with a brief swell of the ‘Stranger Things” theme tune (the first of the evening’s many surprises), Fender and co. took to the stage, launching straight into the energetic Millennial. A little hush as the crowd took breath, and then it was straight onto the next track, and so the evening barrelled onwards.
Fender engaged the crowd on two very different fronts. On the one hand, there was the husky tenor of his vocals, drawing you in and then setting you loose with a flourish of sharp jangly guitars. Give and take was abundant, and the atmosphere was like that of a hometown gig. Much like his music, Fender seems to bring the comforts and strife of his upbringing with him, and that feeling is like a homely coat of paint on the show. Tracks such as Dead Boys are nothing short of an ecstatic sermon, and this warmth of character permeates the entire evening. But I mentioned two fronts. The second prong of Fender’s attack is how genuine and clunky his speeches between songs are, because as Jack White once said, you can always tell when an artist has rehearsed their lines onstage, and the audience can always tell when it’s faked. Well, no such lie detector test was required here, as Fender comes across humble, honest, and completely floored by the support and adoration he’s receiving both on stage and in the press. This was most apparent when he made a short dedication to his absent guitarist Deano, who had been ‘left in a hospital in Sheffield’ after a ‘freak trampoline accident’. ‘We’ll go pick him up eventually’ quips Fender, ‘chuckle chuckle’ replies the audience. Then without a moment’s hesitation, they launch into new single That Sound, and from here on in everyone is on board, naysayers have abandoned ship, the rest of the set is a doozy.
That Sound actually gets a nice a cappella makeover for the show, again a good sign of Fender putting thought into his performances beyond merely churning out picture perfect copies of the recordings, a touch the crowd clearly appreciated. Even the merchandise has this attention to detail; the shirts are sold not in bags, but wrapped up in tinfoil so they look like kebabs. Why do this? Who knows. Is it funny as shit? Yes it is. These little quirks make all the difference. Just as Fender stands out from other up and comers by tackling proper issues like male suicide rates and government interference in his material, so too does he stand out by trying out different stuff live. The end of the set, for example, is usually reserved for artists’ loudest and most danceable material. Not so with Fender. Instead, he closes out the evening with two solo performances on piano and guitar, and they’re both excellent. The piano serenade in particular, is superb, and the guitar driven Leave Fast boasts arguably the best lyric of the evening: “Poor souls sleeping on shop front doors being turfed off by the council, forgotten by our government, selfish little baby with no responsibility watching people die in the cold.” In the current climate of homelessness, which is especially relevant to those familiar with Manchester’s crisis, this line hits hard and, as my choice to quote it proves, lingers.
I could go on. I could tell you how enlivening Greasy Spoon was, or how slivers of similarity to America’s The War On Drugs seep through occasionally, but really it’s pointless. To put it bluntly, succinctly, and not nearly well enough to do it justice, Sam Fender’s show was terrific. Genuinely exciting, well played, with enough hooks and emotional variety to keep everyone young and old happy, Fender made a strong impact on everyone in the room and there was genuine disappointment when it ended. Europe had better be ready for him. If they didn’t before, those in attendance will definitely remember the 5th of November now, but perhaps not for the reason you’d expect.
Sam Fender’s Dead Boys EP is set for release on 20th November – various formats and exclusive bundles can be pre-ordered here.
Sam Fender Live:
6th November – Shipping Forecast, Liverpool (SOLD OUT)
7th November – Thekla, Bristol (SOLD OUT)
9th November – Rock City Basement, Nottingham (SOLD OUT)
10th November – The Castle & Falcon, Birmingham (SOLD OUT)
12th November – OMEARA, London (SOLD OUT)
13th November – OMEARA, London (SOLD OUT)
14th November – OMEARA, London (SOLD OUT)
17th November – Newcastle University (SOLD OUT)
3rd December – Academy, Glasgow (w/ Blossoms) (SOLD OUT)
13th December – O2 Academy Brixton, London (w/ Blossoms) (SOLD OUT)
25th February – Gorilla, Manchester
28th February – Electric Brixton, London