Sam Fender earns his hometown hero status at St. James’ Park

The support rallying behind him tonight is as united as it is deserved.
Photo Credit: Finlay Holden

When Sam Fender announced a headline performance at Newcastle’s famous football stadium, St. James’ Park, the surrounding city sensed that not just a show but a cultural moment was soon to come. When said show immediately sold out and a necessitated second date, that inkling was preemptively affirmed.

Cut to June 2023, and the streets are buzzing with energy. Although monochromatic striped shirts are hardly an uncommon sight up North, there is a unique atmosphere distinguishing this weekend from the usual gameday rabble. You could ask any passerby on the street why town seems even busier than usual, and they’d surely be able to tell you – that’s if you hadn’t spotted the Sam Fender-branded Greggs takeover already.

Hordes of fans are swarming through Strawberry Place, stopping to bask in the sun and enjoy a pint, perhaps tipping one of the many buskers offering various Fender cuts. With all the commotion, bustle and t-shirt tans, sight is not lost on the target of all this celebration.

Making their way into the stadium, attendees witness the noodling spirit of newcomer Ernie, the raw rock energy of rising stars Wunderhorse, and delicate but anthemic, heartbreaking but warm songs from Holly Humberstone. It’s all building towards one thing, and as the minutes pass by, a quiet tension seeps into the otherwise lively venue.

An extended introduction from his brass section only heightens that tension, and by the time Sam does walk out on the makeshift stage, a wild black and white ocean of fans is hollering, flags are swinging in flourishes and not an empty seat can be seen.

Although the usual energised starter ‘Will We Walk?’ opens the set, the 90+ minutes to follow are far from an ordinary Fender gig. Intensity levels rise and dip with ‘Dead Boys’ and ‘Mantra’ before the first guest appearance of the evening as elder brother Liam Fender – a musician in his own right – joins for a Springsteen cover and swaggers around the stage. As later events will prove, Sam is using his platform to credit those that got him to where he is today; a sibling and The Boss himself have certainly contributed.

‘The Borders’ demonstrates where these Americana-songwriter influences began to impact his output but is quickly contrasted by the jarring ferocity of ‘Spice’ and ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’; the potency of these now-established moshpit moments is drastically amplified as a huge standing crowd feels the searing heat of rising flames and is visually bombarded with a deliberately disorienting flurry of colour.

If those tracks are intended to cause chaos, the following block is planned to inspire a far more reflective mindset; ‘Get You Down’ starts commenting on embedded insecurities, ‘Spit Of You’ explores paternal disconnect and the struggles men face while opening up and ‘Alright’ rounds off the arc by proclaiming that there’s still time to work it all out.

St. James’ has historically been a place for people to bond over a common cause in the hope of uniting in support of something greater. Sam Fender today capitalises on that exact energy – one of hometown spirit, loyalty, and passion to spare for those around you – and rallies it around essential topics during a journey that is felt by a 50,000-strong audience.

With the serious stuff out of the way, Sam pays tribute to his lifelong love of AC/DC with not only the man who taught him their songs as a gateway to guitar but also Brian Johnson himself – and he’s still got it. Combining his grizzly vocal chops with Fender’s soaring high notes, the unlikely pair gleefully duet ‘Back In Black’ and ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. It’s an unexpected detour, but no complaints are heard.

The main set is rounded out by ‘Play God’, the sharp lyricisms of which started it all, and a euphoric, tear-inducing dedication to those we’ve lost along the way in ‘The Dying Light’; a fitting rendition of ‘Saturday’ echoes throughout the stadium, and the vocal feedback surges for ‘Seventeen Going Under’ and ‘Hypersonic Missiles’. The fact that these two smash-hit singles aren’t even nearly the highlight of the evening says a lot about Sam’s talent, career and potential; there truly is nothing holding him back.

Having not only achieved a monumental dream but smashed it twice, Sam Fender and his band become the first all-Geordie band to ever play the venue; the frontman jestfully imitates Noel Gallagher’s famous “This is history” speech, but in reality, he is not far off the mark. The support rallying behind him tonight is as united as it is deserved, and it even breaks Sam into filming his first-ever on-stage story. Carrying the history of past heroes, adapting those tones into current and revolutionary artistry, and actively inspiring the future of the scene; even if you’ve seen Sam Fender before, you’ve never seen him like this. What is left for him to accomplish in his home city? “Well, we’re gonna have to do this again sometime, aren’t we?”