Angel of the north, Sam Fender, returned to Leeds for a sold-out gig at the O2 academy this November. The horrible weather of the day cleared and so the only thing to rain from the skies was Carlsberg in plastic cups. From posts on social media about previous gigs, I knew I was in for a mad show – I wasn’t wrong. The night was filled with flying pints, huge pits, deafening sing-alongs, crowd-surfing and, of course, amazing music.
Heading down early to catch Brooke Bentham was a reward that payed off. Her unassuming stage presence warmed the crowd while her phenomenal vocals paved the way for a night of high emotion. A highlight of the set was her new release ‘Perform for You’, a track that just epitomises her talent for lyricism. Dark themes, wavering elongated notes and heavy melodies combined to create something hauntingly poignant. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful and I’m certain I wasn’t the only fan she gained. Inevitably, as she walked off the stage, there were murmurs of excitement because now it was time for the main act…
Me and my friends tried to guess the opener. I guessed ‘Will We Talk?’, a song that pelts straight out the gate. Picture this: lights out, crowd cheering, glitchy synth, pounding drums, steady guitars and ‘BLUE MONDAYYYY!’, I was right. From the get-go, the crowd was with Sam and his band singing and bouncing along to every song (even ‘Play God’ had a lil pit going). After this, he followed with ‘Millennial’, ‘Start Again’, and ‘Greasy Spoon’ – 3 tracks that were pre-released long before his debut album, even before he won the Brit award. I was so glad they were included, not just because they are MASSIVE TUNES, but a nod to fans who have been there from the beginning. Moreover, the fact that he has such great songs in his arsenal (pre-debut album) demonstrates his unbelievable talent.
An unreleased song, ‘All Is On My Side’, was up next. This was another moment for die hard fans who have had to scour YouTube to track down live recordings of this beautiful song (yep, been there). The sheer surprise and joy I felt when he played this made it a definite highlight of the night, it was a cringey eyes-closed, hand on chest sing-along moment for me (lmao). ‘The Borders’ followed which showcased the first solo from Johnny Blue Hat, the toon top wearing sax legend. I have long been a saxophone enthusiast, so you are definitely doing something right by me when the crowd goes absolutely mental for a sax solo. Sam has frequently said that this track is sonically the closest to where he wants his sound to go, with remarkable storytelling, dystopian echoey synth, unwavering rhythm, winding guitars and killer sax – I can’t wait to hear what he’s planning next! Another powerful moment followed this in ‘Dead Boys’, a track that documents a reaction to the loss of someone through suicide. Sonically, it inspires frustration, confusion but also a kind of defiance and this was amplified in the live performance. There is something really moving about a crowd surging up to challenge the stigma around mental health and suicide.
In between tracks Sam kept teasing the crowd, challenging us to go wilder than Glasgow or Nottingham. If there was a moment to do this, ‘Spice’ was the one. Instantly, on the first chord, we were all displaced to make way for a gigantic pit in the centre of the O2. It went OWFFFF. In between the chorus and the fourth verse the band held the song, increasing the tension in the room so that when the drums finally came back there was an almighty release. Leeds delivered. At the end of the track Sam checked we were all in one piece and carried on into the certified chooooone ‘Play God’.
Up next was the one the crowd were waiting for, the one that everyone knows, the one that is frankly seismic. ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ set the O2 alight. It has been so long since I saw such a massive crowd, wall to wall, all bouncing and singing along. I’m almost certain you could hear ‘ILL GIVE YOU EVERYTHING I’VE GOTTTTTTTTTTT!!!’ all the way in Newcastle. So so SO class.
Sam warned us that he would “pretend to walk off stage” before coming back for the encore, but little did we know what he would pull out the bag. For the first time on this tour, he came back out and played ‘Poundshop Kardashians’ solo. Another fan fav from back ‘int day, yet the words “there’s an orange faced baby at the wheel of the ship” still (somehow) ring true. ‘Leave Fast’ was next, a dreamy, delicate, eerie track which was both soothing and haunting. In classic fashion, Sam was joined at the final notes by guitarist (and best mate) Dean. Soon after, chants for ‘DEANOOOOOOOOO’ rang around the academy – the crowd were still entirely present. ‘That Sound’ followed before two (yes two!!) covers. ‘Dancing In The Dark’ by Sam’s “hero”, Springsteen, brought a slice of New Jersey to the North of England. Expertly done, it was a nice tribute to the artist who inspired Sam and, perhaps, made this concert a reality. But… there was one more to come. So far, on this tour, it has only been done in Leeds. Sam Fender and his band closed their set with ‘Morning Glory’ by Oasis. WHAT A WAY TO FINISH!! If the O2 was in flames before, it was now royally burned to the ground.
Some people may think that to end the night on two covers was an odd choice, but it worked so well. In fact, the whole setlist flowed together really nicely. I was so pleased to see old tracks scattered between some of the newer material (especially ‘All Is On My Side’ aaaaa!). Sam and his band pride themselves on the fact that their shows are 100% live, nothing is pre-recorded. This, combined with Sam’s astounding vocals (they sound even better live than recorded!?) made it a gig to remember. I know I say this every time… but now I’m certain, Sam Fender at the O2 academy was the best live performance I have ever experienced.
The verdict: A hog roast as it warms you against a cold winters night. Oh yeah, its manic getting in the queue, people fighting there way to get to the main attraction (but pls I am NOT calling Sam Fender a pig). You fill your bun with old faithful’s such as apple sauce and stuffing, making the overall experience well rounded and full bodied. Juicy, flavourful, fruity, more-ish and by the end you’re a hot mess ~(˘▾˘~)
(p.s. sorry fellow vegetarians)
Watch for yourself: