Live review: Sam Fender @ Riverside, Newcastle

By Lizzie Dijkstra

 It was precisely 9:18 pm when a blue silhouette came to the fore – it belonged to the person everybody had been anticipating. The smoke on the stage seemed to lift a little and, with neither warning nor introduction, the band launched into tapestries of sound, instantly recognised by everyone as ‘Millennial’ – Sam Fender’s latest single.

“Hello Newcastle. Good to be home… finally.”

It was not until recently that I have been acquainted with the up and coming Sam Fender; a 21-year-old Tynesider who was to round off his 2017 tour with a homecoming gig at Riverside, Newcastle. Not entirely knowing what to expect, we infiltrated the venue with a dozen others, some of whom made for the bar whilst others surging straight to the barrier so as to avail themselves the best view of Sam Fender.

The turnout was diverse and strong – from people sporting corduroy jackets and vintage frocks to angular blue haircuts and septum piercings. I feasted on this sea of avant-garde, my eyes then darting up towards one of many illuminated signs on the wall: “shine on you crazy diamond”.

The event was set in motion by a series of musicians with greasy hair and smouldering gazes who, although unfamiliar to most of the audience, were met with enthusiasm. Setting the tone for the night, they disclosed a repertoire of gritty hypnotic songs that at times were so loud, I felt at one with the rhythm that pulsated through me. All the while, more people were feeding into the space, making it near impossible to walk further than two steps forward. Yellow lasers, like brilliant beams of sunlight, pierced the blue haze above us.

After roughly 2 hours, Fender made it to the stage. What followed was a rapturous roar from the crowd. ‘Millennial’ is imbued with satire and jarring parallel fifth progressions that exhibit a hollow quality, perhaps redolent of us, the audience – the desensitised Instagram generation. We all knew the words, we all sang along.

Photograph: Daniel Stark

Keeping his set-list varied, Fender proceeded to share various unreleased material, talking to the audience during short intermissions:

“This has been the loudest fucking seven months of our lives”.

The politically charged ‘Start Again’ came next; the song is, largely, symptomatic of corruption and disruption. It questions society – “new dictators with funny facial hair / we follow them anywhere / just like we did before” – and fosters an increasingly dark and poetic stance with the repetition of each chorus.

Upon hearing the opening refrain to ‘Greasy Spoon’ sounding out, my heart began to flutter and I started to feel myself being lulled into a strange and moody reverie. Conceptually, this song ruminates over being a woman; it tells an almost deadpan romanticised story of the girl who “knocks back black coffee / working ’til the afternoon”. But the sombre droning on of the bass and lyrics bring to mind more than that. Unsolicited danger – “cat call and white van patrol” – and an evident sense of self-destruction in the brooding refrain – “she hardly sleeps / she hardly eats / she hardly breaths when you’re in her breathing space.” – are running themes in this song.

For a span of time, Fender was left alone on stage singing various downbeat songs, revealing a different side to him – a more delicate one, perhaps.  Poignant high notes were accompanied by bending sounds almost reminiscent of the white noise you hear on the train, feeding the urban ambience of the venue. At one stage, Tina – Fender’s guitar – was put to the side and exchanged for the piano’s heart-rendering melodies.

Within a matter of seconds after rejoining Fender on the stage, the band started playing the final tune of the night, ‘Play God’: a single produced partially in Fender’s mother’s flat and the garden shed, that saw him become a BBC Radio “New Name” earlier this year. Doting fans were screaming choruses by this point, chanting along to the sinistrous line “and he will play God”, that pervades the song.

The Line of Best Fit describe Fender’s music as “hard-hitting indie rock with social conscience”, and I’m inclined to agree. Not only was the content of his music thought-provokingly emblematic, but his long-established musical talent shone through as his vocals engulfed the venue endlessly, and as he demonstrated skillfulness on the guitar and piano.

From the histrionic supporting acts to Sam Fender himself, to say that the night was a spectacle would be something of an understatement. I’m curious to see what 2018 has in store for this rising indie rocker.

Photograph: Neighbourhood PR

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