Newcastle United plays host to only the best. The Rolling Stones. Bob Dylan. Yohan Cabaye. Bruce Springsteen. Sam Fender. The local hero does not seem out of place in such a massive line-up, and his first-time playing his beloved St James’ Park does not disappoint. A big day for people whose personality is black and white. But then, this could not happen south of the river, in the Championship. They do not draw crowds like that. None who can belt out Local Hero and Hey Jude, with a brief cluster of mistakes in the latter, anyway. For all Fender wishes he could move away from the Springsteen comparisons, he covers him enough to pay tribute to the big influence himself night in, night out. Here, it provides a touching feature of his brother, fellow musician Liam Fender.
This is Fender at his best, a wave he rides consistently and has done so since 2021. Covering I’m On Fire with Liam Fender provides a crucial look into the heart of Fender’s music following on from Seventeen Going Under. Family, home and culture. All of it revolves around the shifting sands of North Shields, the feral queues of a Howden Aldi and the connection he has to his roots, club and all. The likes of Play God and Wild Grey Ocean see Fender leap between the two storied pieces of his career, the former a first-ever release, the latter his most recent and a Record Store Day special. He has come a long way in such a short while yet in that time has captured a city and a passion in two chart-topping albums. Few can do this over an entire career, Fender has achieved it in six years.
What comes next is not on his mind, although a third album is just around the corner. His set at St James’ Park is almost identical to that of his homecoming Utilita show at the tail end of 2021. For those in attendance that night, it is well worth hearing the few bells and whistles extra that feature in the St James’ Park show. This feels like the right way to cap this era of Fender’s work. There are only so many times a show can close with a four-track encore which features the title tracks of his albums. Stunning performances they may be, a live act arena must be aware, constantly of stagnation setting in. Getting Started and Dead Boys feature in their expected places too. It all sounds incredible, Fender and company are always a blast on stage and the added pyrotechnics, fireworks and confetti do bring a sense of closure to a very successful period for the man leading a Brit music revival.
Fender, the man who has earned his place playing to the crowd with songs of his own life in the city he now finds himself performing to, earns his spot on stage at St James’ Park. The first Geordie to properly play the stadium. He leads a cultural charge he started last year with Seventeen Going Under and this is the pay-off. Despite a few technical issues, which, let’s be fair, happens to everyone at this point, Fender cracks through a hits-heavy setlist but keeps tight-lipped about future material. Opener Holly Humberstone was more than happy to share new track Antichrist, a treat of a track worth keeping an ear out for. Inhaler too was on fine form, warming the crowd up with their Cuts and Bruises essentials before Fender took to the stage. It is his crowd’s night just as much as it is his, and he shares the same warmth and genuine, caring nature as he always does, through his records, his appearances and his frontman talent. Ears ringing as you stomp down the steps of St James, Sam Fender marks a riotous night in his beloved club. He achieves his dreams, and it is maddening to think this is only the start.