Review / Sam Fender @ Thekla

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'Anyone that can break your heart and make you smile during the same set deserves all credibility as an artist,' Jamie Shepherd reviews Sam Fender at Thekla

As a North Easterner in self-imposed academic exile in the South West of England, there are certain things you miss. For me, they include pease pudding (Google this culinary delight), two treble vodkas and two jagerbombs for less than a fiver, and that glorious accent of ours, which isn’t quite Scottish, isn’t quite Northern but boy does it make you stand out anywhere south of Scotch Corner. Tonight, I was treated to a taste from home when rising Geordie star Sam Fender played Thekla, with support from the equally formidable A Festival, A Parade.

I’ve known the AFAP boys (as they’re known amongst friends) for quite a while now and caught them at various support slots across the Toon before I emigrated to Bristol. Named after lyrics from The National’s ‘All the Wine’, AFAP’s enrapturingly abrasive audio wave was a surprising choice to support Sam Fender however that didn’t stop the boys putting on a belter of a show.

Opening with ‘Cold Shower’ from this year’s Stay Away From Me EP, the band launched into a visceral assault on the audience punctuated by frontman Joe Allan’s stark imperative “If I were you I’d keep your fucking distance”. Accompanying the performance was a bleak collection of visuals covering everything from Thatcher, nuclear weapon tests, Enoch Powell, Sideshow Bob and 1950’s advertisements, designed by guitarist Reese.

Midway through the set, Joe made the claim that this was the best gig of their tour which I would have believed to be disingenuous if it wasn’t for the fact I clocked bassist Olly screaming at the top of his lungs whilst playing. Their closer ‘Straight to Work’ was a euphoric manifesto that in no uncertain terms demonstrated their position as a band you should keep your eyes on if you’ve got any sense about you.

Before the lanky dreamboat with astonishing bone-structure that is Sam Fender took to the stage, the venue was bathed in eerie darkness as the ominous tones of the Stranger Things opening theme before he launched into his track ‘Millenial’, a wry dig at the generation of the same name which he has been very vocal in distancing himself from in interviews.

If there’s anything a Geordie is good at it’s the “patter”/"craic”/banter and in between songs he entertained us in his deep dulcet tones. He regaled us of the unfortunate case when tragedy befell them in Sheffield due to an incident where band member Dean broke his leg in a “freak trampolining accident”. Dean was unable to continue the rest of the tour however you wouldn’t have realised this unless it was pointed out by Sam as the performance was slick, professional and frenetically energetic, minus the mishap with his guitar forcing him to restart the aptly named ‘Start Again’.

When it came to ‘Dead Boys’, his melancholic memorial to the victims of male suicide in his hometown North Shields and beyond, his voice ached with a Jeff Buckley-esque beauty. His influences very much came to the foreground when he later performed ‘That Sound’ which bathed the venue with a blissful soundscape that came across as a combination of Bruce Springsteen at full-pelt with the more modern idiosyncrasies of The War on Drugs.

After a brief encore, Sam returned to the stage and announced "I’m gonna play two more songs for ya and then I’m gonna fuck off”. The first track was a stripped back affair which demonstrated his marked skills that despite being Radio 1 friendly, fodder, also Sam finished the set with an ode to that great Geordie pastime, which we seem to do better than anyone else in the country, that is 'going out and getting pissed at the weekend'. He closed the set in a buoyant manner which demonstrated to me his command of emotion. Anyone that can break your heart and make you smile during the same set deserves all credibility available to them as a musician and an artist.

Featured Image: Sam Fender/ Polydor Records


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