Not just coming into his own over the past 18 months, but breaking away from the pack to lead his own revolution – there may not be an artist better at soundtracking our times right now than Sam Fender. Brighton Centre is a large venue, but in comparison to his summer of festival headliners, huge outdoor moments (Finsbury Park, anyone?) and even bolder plans for the future, it almost feels intimate.
“It’s fucking mental; this is the ‘small show’ of the tour,” laughs Sam. It sets the vibe for the night – from the opening electric refrains of ‘Will We Talk?’ and ‘Getting Started’, it’s clear that Brighton Centre is fit to burst. Bar staff gather at balcony doors to catch a glimpse of a guy leading his band through a triumphant set. When tracks like ‘The Borders’ hit, they do so in a way that overflows with every emotion. Wearing his heart firmly on his sleeve, he finds celebration in catastrophe and freedom in the face of fear.
The ferocious, almost uncontrollable rage of ‘Spice’ and ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’ are wild garage-rock sizzlers, and when Sam cuts deep, it’s like he’s able to put into words what many of us live through. ‘Dead Boys’, a song that took a deeply personal moment in his own life and was grasped by so many, comes early in the set tonight – setting the bar for a set that’s emotional and euphoric in equal measure. Whilst his debut brimmed with confidence, follow-up ‘Seventeen Going Under’ kicks that up a gear. ‘Get You Down’ stops everyone in their tracks, while ‘Spit Of You’ harnesses a collective singalong. ‘The Borders’ lays a tale that reaches beyond that, and ‘Play God’ bubbles with menacing energy.
Punctuated by tales of meeting fellow Geordies in Japan and walking past the venue with his band after playing The Great Escape in years gone by, wondering if they’d ever play such a stage, tonight is the fully-formed result. Sam is a songwriter who has captured a mood and feeling in a country all so often torn apart, shown effortlessly with main set closer ‘The Dying Light’, a snapshot of a lonely lad at the pub on last orders dreaming of tomorrow.
Sam at Brighton Centre proves his game-changing levels. When he steps back out to play ‘Saturday’ and the sold-out room sings back at him, it means something. As ‘Seventeen Going Under’ rings out and fans clamber on shoulders to revel in its soaring hooks, it means something. As ‘Hypersonic Missiles’ kicks into another gear, confetti and all, it means something. Sam Fender is becoming an essential artist for our times.