Live review

Sam Fender, St James’ Park, Newcastle

9th June 2023

This evening showcases a region at its best, coming together to support one of its own.

After spending much of the winter on a well-earned break, tonight Sam Fender is picking up exactly where he left off: ticking items off his bucket list. Having just completed a recent run as Bruce Springsteen’s opening act in Italy, the North Shields native is back on home soil to play two sold-out shows at St James’ Park, the home of his beloved Newcastle United.

“It was a joke. It was supposed to be a joke…” Sam admits as he remembers how his younger self would talk about one day playing St James’. He takes in the sea of black and white in front, over fifty-thousand people (mostly fellow Geordies) all there to watch his wildest dreams transition into a very present reality.

It’s not just the stadium and the team merchandise that conjures an atmosphere similar to that of a home game here. Anyone who’s attended before would recognise the significance of ‘Hey Jude’ followed by a crowd singalong to Geordie folk song ‘The Blaydon Races’ before a saxophone rendition of Mark Knopfler’s aptly-named ‘Local Hero’. It ends with a new addition: the Champions League theme, just as Sam and his band take to the stage.

Though the football-centric setup may not be to everyone’s taste - especially those supporting opposing teams - there is little heed paid to this criticism inside the walls of St James’ tonight. The atmosphere is electric and one that’s unique for a musical event, with a clear sense of regional pride echoing around the stands.

Sam Fender, St James' Park, Newcastle Sam Fender, St James' Park, Newcastle Sam Fender, St James' Park, Newcastle

In terms of the setlist, Sam sticks to his blueprint, opening with ‘Will We Talk?’ and closing with ‘Hypersonic Missiles’. In between comes an almost two-hour long selection from all points of the 29 year old’s fast-paced career. The singalong choruses of tunes like ‘Getting Started’ and ‘Spit of You’ are placed alongside the softer sounds of ‘Wild Grey Ocean’ and ‘Mantra’, as well as the defiant heavier riffs of ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’ and ‘Spice’. Despite a technical mishap causing a short break halfway through, his strong musical repertoire soon reignites the crowd's energy. For the fifth song of the night, Sam welcomes to the stage his older brother, Liam, also a musician, to perform a powerful rendition of Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’.

One of the most impressive moments of the evening comes with ‘The Dying Light’, a song Sam introduces as being “about where we’re from”, referencing both band and crowd. The track - much like ‘Dead Boys’, performed earlier in the show - is another poignant nod towards the alarmingly high male suicide rates in the North East, and comes dedicated to ‘all of those who didn’t make the night’. Sam takes to the piano for the first time of the night, beginning the first verse alone, before picking the guitar back up again to rejoin his band for the crescendo of a dramatic instrumental, amplified by fireworks that complement the music perfectly. While most of the night is an extravagant celebration of local culture, the shift of emotion experienced here serves to remind us of the struggles the region so often faces.

Sam Fender, St James' Park, Newcastle Sam Fender, St James' Park, Newcastle

Soon, the evening is brought to a close by the anthemic run of ‘Saturday’, ‘Seventeen Going Under’ and ‘Hypersonic Missiles’. Showing no signs of fatigue, it’s here where the crowd is at its loudest. And even after the lights at St James’ have long been turned back on and Sam leaves the stage - closely embracing each of his bandmates before doing so - the crowd can be heard singing through the streets of Newcastle.

Tonight is a celebration of what lies at the very heart of music, North East culture, and even sport: community. From a Greggs outlet in the city centre temporarily becoming ‘Fenders Unplugged’ and hosting performances from local bands and artists, through to Newcastle Westend Foodbank organising collection points outside the venue, this evening showcases a region at its best, coming together to support one of its own.

Tags: Sam Fender, Reviews, Live Reviews

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