Live at Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club 10th December 2021
“We’re all going to get Covid tonight”, Sam tells the excited and youthful audience tonight. He’d only a few weeks ago played Leeds Arena and here he was in a small room with 400 utterly thrilled and unmasked fans. Seems he and the band had it last year and the whole lockdown-in-the-same-house thing got a bit sordid and grim but here he was, busting loose. Tonight was a benefit for the Teenage Cancer Trust – the organisation that ran the competition that gave him his first break.
You know those gigs when an act is big on the radio and half the audience is only there for the hit and the other half are too busy taking selfies to immerse themselves in the music? This wasn’t like that. The whole evening was an electric atmosphere – him thrilled to play a small, responsive crowd, them thrilled to see him up close. And he’s magnetic. A sense of presence and body to the songs that is immanent live, making real the promise of the records. Apparently relaxed, with a big grin, he’s living his best life and there is a real sense of “can’t believe I’m here” to him that makes it real. With a cheeky smile and a bit of gentle banter, the girls want to snog him, the boys want to be him. It works.
The setlist probably would have run about an hour, a trimmed down version of the arena list but he just can’t help himself, and adds first one, then another song in and fills the set out. Kicking off quietly on acoustic mandolin with female harmonies for ‘Last To Make It Home’ (from his new album), no-one is quite sure what they are in for this evening and act politely. Then the band file onto the stage and you can sense the relief. It’s a six-piece band and you know it will be a full sound. ‘All Is On My Side’ is fine, ‘Better Of Me’ a little dull but things get going properly, funnily enough, at ‘Getting Started’ and then ‘Spit’ is very welcome – another excellent choice from the recent LP.
He’s been on the Brudenell’s famous bar menu: “I’m feeling a bit sick – there might be pie and mash coming up all over you” he grins. Thankfully there isn’t, and we get ‘Seventeen Going Under’ with a lot of lighter waving. ‘The Borders’ follows, raising the energy with furious beats and the much-lauded debut single, ‘Dead Boys’.
Sam is getting heavy publicity and, despite performing in Fila trackie bottoms, has a menswear deal to promote Scott’s, who have put up posters everywhere in and outside the venue. “I walked in and I nearly s**t myself – there were pictures of me everywhere. Tear them down and take them please!”
Before the set is due to end, he says “does anyone want to go mental?” And, to be fair, we may have had too many ballads. ‘Howdon Aldi Death Queue’ from the debut EP, played super-fast sends the front into a frenzy then a request from the audience for “Spice”, a hyper-energetic oldie, leads to a lot more jumping about. As we close on ‘Hypersonic Missiles’, a final blast of frantic leaping leaves the audience sated.
Sam Fender’s records are fine but live is where he earns his rep. A performer whose slightly abashed confidence wins over a crowd, he clearly loves his songs and is determined to play them at their best. It’s the sort of thing that leaves you feeling satisfied as you file out into the winter night.