Sam Fender @ Rock City
Fender channels the spirit of Springsteen in stellar fashion in a triumphant Rock City sell-out.
Little over a year after headlining Rock City’s basement, the prodigal upstart singer-songwriter from North Shields took to the most revered stage in Nottingham, living up to expectations in a highly anticipated set which sold out in minutes. In the 12 months between, he’d supported two of the most influential songwriters of all time, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, at Hyde Park, been booked for essentially every guitar music-showcasing festival in the UK worthy of note over the summer (unfortunately having to cancel several as a result of a vocal cord haemorrhage) and released his debut full-length Hypersonic Missiles, which earned near-universal critical acclaim and shot to the top of the UK albums chart; a middle finger to any suggestion that his summer absence had killed the unrelenting hype.
"A testament to Fender’s unparalleled ability to wield pop sensibilities with one hand and scathing social commentary with the other."
And Fender’s Rock City outing was another middle finger to the proposition that socially aware, politically inclined, Americana-tinged pop rock will fail to galvanise people of all ages and backgrounds in today's climate. The 2,000 capacity room was strikingly brimming with fortunate ticketholders even in the hours leading up to Fender’s set, and the Geordie capitalised on the buzz with ease by the time his set rolled around.
Opening with rollicking album highlight Will We Talk? proved to be an informed endeavour. In an establishment contemporarily characterised equally by live music as with esteemed club nights, the gritty, apprehensive one-night-stand sentiments of the indie banger echoed between the one set of walls which perhaps knows more of Nottingham’s secrets than any other. A standout dialogue in Fender’s promising repertoire, hitting the Strokes-esque guitar notes of the album’s sixth single from the outset paid off as a result of Fender’s countless other dependable tunes which revealed themselves through the night.
"A steadily glistening performance with abundant standout moments likely to be treasured by all in attendance."
Steamrolling through several non-album tracks including the captivating yet-to-be-released ballad All Is On My Side also paid off in favour of the 25-year-old, as the likes of Millennial and Start Again maintained a healthy, sizzling mosh-pit/bounce-pit from singalong chorus to singalong chorus. The Borders, however, was the most stirring indication of the way in which Fender’s music resonates with young people. Despite the track’s nature as somewhat of a topical tirade with a Born in the U.S.A.-era Springsteen aesthetic, relentless punters pulled out all the stops to yell every word of the diatribe - truly a testament to Fender’s unparalleled ability to wield pop sensibilities with one hand and scathing social commentary with the other.
While comparisons to The Boss are difficult to evade as a result of his working class slant and clear sonic influence, Fender truly shines both on stage and in the studio when his personality is permitted to cut through the dense guitars and pounding drum-work. Tales of himself and lead guitarist Dean Thompson’s ability (or inability) to pull pints in their younger days were all-too-welcome, even when it is Fender’s music which ultimately sets him apart as a more profound spokesperson than many of his contemporaries in the singer-songwriter sphere. The album’s title track Hypersonic Missiles is heavily reminiscent of Springsteen’s seminal Born to Run album, it’s true, but unapologetically so. The uplifting yelps and searing saxophone solo (played on stage by Johnny Davis) enable and empower the track’s lyrical criticisms of the modern world as opposed drown them out, and the song played out live almost like Fender’s own State of the Union address, but with his distinctly British blue collar wisdom sitting behind, whispering in the ear of the titanic sonic arrangements. The ultimate result was the most explosive call-to-dis-arms of the evening.
Following Hypersonic Missiles, an enthralling solo rendition of the poetic but damning Leave Fast (which would fit just as snugly on the South Shields promenade as it would on the left-behind Atlantic City boardwalk) and a shimmering cover of The Boss’ Dancing in the Dark were almost a ceremonial piece of punctuation on the end of an already fabled hour at Rock City. A steadily glistening performance with abundant standout moments likely to be treasured by all in attendance, it’s clear that the cap on a breakout year for Sam Fender will soon be ready to burst again, as the best is most certainly yet to come.