Live Report: Sam Fender – Utilita Arena, Newcastle

Sam Fender stuns with a long-awaited debut performance in his hometown arena...

Local boy turned hometown hero Sam Fender has been at the height of his powers since the grand return of live music earlier this summer, bringing not only his rock stompers from #1 debut album ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ to the stage once more but now blending these hits with a new era of songwriting, the longevity of which is still yet to be fully exerted. 

However, one big milestone has to this day been missing from the North Shields musician’s belt; a hometown arena show. Despite selling out a string of high-capacity dates as part of his first album tour, Fender was unable to play these until November 2021 – at which point he now has a second record released in the form of the powerful ‘Seventeen Going Under’ – and the set is all the more impactful for it.

Gang Of Youths provided the growing audience with an ambitious, respectable and undeniably enjoyable warm-up featuring moody tunes like the yearning closer, ‘What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?’. Although the Australian five-piece’s frontman David Le'aupepe bathes in the radiant energy of new EP ‘tend the garden’, it is obvious what the fans tonight were waiting for.

From the moment the waving horde of NUFC flags are proudly raised, the club’s chants dominate the arena and imbue the now-standard cover of the Local Hero theme with a unique power only found in this very city. With anticipation and tension at its absolute peak, the quivering tones of ‘Will We Talk?’ need no introduction and instantly electrify the room.

“It’s a big moment for all of us here,” the singer-songwriter declares before jumping into recent discography addition ‘Getting Started’, which seems accurate with two more of these sold-out hometown arena show coming up in April and plenty more sure to come; this is the show that marks the beginning, though, and shows that the Northern icon is far from a one album wonder with new material earning it’s rightful place alongside old favourites. One galvanizing old favourite ‘Dead Boys’ shows that, despite newfound TikTok stardom, intimate moments are not tarnished, particularly when their themes hit so close to the heart of the local community.

Sam’s declared LP1 favourite ‘The Borders’ is a throbbing work of art that once seemed out of place against tracks with more succinct punch, but makes complete sense years later as the evolution to come was being not so subtly hinted at. This ebbing and flowing soundscape is used as a jumping off point for the mosh section of the evening, or “two songs to go fucking mental to” as Fender puts it – EP standout ‘Spice’ and recent b-side ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’ certainly fulfil that description.

The main section of the set gradually winds to a close with the cathartic ‘Get You Down’, sprinkling some phenomenal vocal flourishes over lyrics expunging years of self-doubt (“I catch myself in the mirror / see a pathetic little boy”). Surprise hit ‘Spit Of You’ similarly capitalises on internal pressures; the projected fan-supplied images and immense verbal recall cements its reach. The title track of this second record delivers the culmination of all these complexities, and additionally supplies a vocal chant to even rival that of the first. When cutting words fade into chants extending beyond any instrumentation, Sam proclaims: “that’s hope, that’s hope right there.” This show has been all about hope for both the artist, the region and each and every individual carving out their own life in it. While he has dropped his claim to the ‘Geordie Springsteen’ tag, a similar style of sad optimism resides within Fender and he certainly isn’t dropping the ‘Dancing In The Dark’ adaptation anytime soon.

Some fine guitar flexing with ‘Saturday’ is built upon by the band to manifest the song's full groove before exploding into the eruptive closer of ‘Hypersonic Missiles’. While this could feel indulgent or pandering after so many releases since, the emotional response elicited each and every time is worthy of doing so and feels more earned than ever on an evening of such celebration.

Sam confesses that himself and the entire band have, “been dying to play this gig for so long,” and it went above and beyond what any ticket holder could have expected before the event sold out back in 2019. Fender proves time and time again why his name is working it’s way up the festival billings, having now reached his first grasps of headliner status. With 2 more of these arena shows coming up in April and many more occurring across the country, the outfit’s dominating sound and ethos will not easily be left behind.

Words: Finlay Holden
Photography: Storm Hudspith Walker

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Going Home: Theme of the Local Hero (Mark Knopfler cover)
Will We Talk?
Getting Started
All Is on My Side
Dead Boys
The Borders
Howdon Aldi Death Queue
Get You Down
Spit of You
Seventeen Going Under
Play God

Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Hypersonic Missiles

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