O2 Victoria Warehouse Manchester
September 16th 2021
The lights dim, figures walk across the stage. Sam Fender reaches for his mic stand centre stage as a spotlight hits him and bang; we’re off. No pre-amble, no introductions, just pounding drums and a driving guitar riff as the band launch straight into, ‘Will we talk?’ It’s greeted with a huge roar, with hundreds of arms spontaneously raised aloft; it’s as though months of pent up anticipation have just been released.
Song over, the crowd are already won over and introductions are made. The pace slows for the poignant, ‘Dead Boys,’ a tale of teenage suicide in Fender’s native Tyneside. The tone remains subdued for early song, “All is on my side” before Sam introduces his favourite track from the first album, “The Borders.” Hardly a surprising choice, it’s his most Springsteen-esque composition and a highlight of the album. Live, it lives up to expectations and sees the first appearance of Johnny “Bluehat” Davis on sax. It’s a great song anyway but the soaring sax really makes it. We’re not talking plagiarism but the sound and structure is imbued with the spirit of “Born to Run” era Springsteen. Yet go beyond the anthemic sound and this isn’t a Tyneside version of driving cars on the highway, it’s a tale of poverty, dysfunctional families and domestic violence.
The band have been playing the core of this show at UK festivals over the past month so some of us knew what was coming next. ‘Spice’ may have lyrical depth but it’s lost in frenetic rhythm and audience frenzy that ensues. It’s good to see that Fender is able to learn from his mistakes though. Two weeks earlier at Neighbourhood Festival, he’d introduced the song by urging the crowd to go wild and create circle pits. They duly obliged and within two minutes there’d been a serious injury; forcing the band to pause for around ten minutes and lose momentum. Tonight there was no incitement to mayhem. It erupted anyway but Sam was wise enough to pause briefly midway through to check that everyone was okay before launching into it again.
As the set continues we’re treated to tracks from the forthcoming album. They’re new to me but clearly familiar to many present, with sections near the front spontaneously breaking into song on the choruses. I’m soon back in familiar territory though with, ‘Play God,’ reflecting on Big Brother and our surveillance society. And then they’re gone. It’s been an impressive 45 minutes but surely too short.
I needn’t have worried. A couple of minutes later Sam’s back alone, guitar in hand and ready to pay homage. He asks whether the crowd can sing before delivering a solo version of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark.’ It’s a worthy effort, faithful to the original in some respects but interesting to hear it delivered with just guitar and voice. And yes the crowd definitely prove that they can sing! His sax player is then ushered on for a duet. One of many new songs that we’re told didn’t make the new album cut; he’s teasing future releases of EP’s for some of this material.
Now it’s time to embarrass a bandmate. Keyboard player Joe is brought on as a huge back projection proclaims, “Happy Birthday Joe.” The crowd fulfil their singing duties with gusto as poor Joe stamps his feet and waves his arms in chaotic fashion; only pausing as a large Birthday cake is delivered with candles to extinguish. Embarrassing celebrations over, we’re heading for the finale and thanked for coming out with the suggestion that next time the venue will be somewhere bigger. It’s not surprising; the band have filled The Warehouse for two consecutive nights and played to some huge festival audiences in recent weeks.
Introduced as, “This is the song that got us into this mess,” the band close with, ‘Hypersonic Missiles.’ The response can only be described as euphoric; arms are held aloft, bodies hoisted on shoulders and the singing is almost deafening. Sam Fender may have hypersonic missiles but many in the crowd have their own subsonic missiles; launching a plethora of partially filled plastic beer glasses into the air in celebratory fashion. As we head into the night across Salford Quays many are still singing the notes of Missiles”’sax break as they make their way home. I’m sure Sam Fender will be back, but you’ll need to be in an arena to see him.
All words by Trev Eales, this is Trev’s first piece for Louder Than War.