Sam Fender Fires Hypersonic Missiles At Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Sam Fender hasn’t released a full-length album. He’s not had a song featured in one of those omnipresent car adverts or even the heavy-rotation trailer for yet another interchangeable BBC cop show. He’s not even made Ant and Dec cry on Britain’s Got The Voice, or whatever it is they’re hosting now.

Sam Fender amd his band perform at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on 07 May 2019 (Simon Reed)

But thanks to one EP, a string of singles, and incessant touring (133 shows since last January), the 2019 Brit Awards Critics’ Choice winner has now sold out two nights at Shepherds Bush Empire. And when he returns to London in December it will be Brixton Academy that sells out.

Sam Fender amd his band perform at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on 07 May 2019 (Simon Reed)

Not bad for a for 23-year-old who, when discovered by Ben Howard’s manager 6 years ago, was pulling pints at a North Shields pub. That turning point is one of several anecdotes Fender shares (alongside memories of “sitting on me arse watching Homes Under The Hammer” and befriending his guitarist while pelting eggs at a Co-Op) that help explain his popularity. While gigs can feel like cynical transactions between performer and consumer, his show is a good night out with friends.

Sam Fender amd his band perform at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on 07 May 2019 (Simon Reed)

Between songs, he’s chatty, grounded, and (with comments like “this is all completely daft”) still genuinely excited (and slightly bemused) by this fame thing. During songs, he experiences the music and lyrics as intensely as his biggest fans do.

Sam Fender amd his band perform at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on 07 May 2019 (Simon Reed)

But Fender has a lot more to offer than a personal connection. Like strong songs. All have big hooks, and even bigger melodies that sometimes amplify the beauty and sometimes temper the darkness. An incandescent The Borders is the ultimate War On Drugs/Killers mashup, complete with pina-coladas-by-the-poolside sax solo, while All Is On My Side is what a California sunrise might sound like.

Sam Fender amd his band perform at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on 07 May 2019 (Simon Reed)

But beneath the giant choruses of the slow burning, gut punching Dead Boys lie lyrics of male suicide. The brooding Play God manages to pull off a spontaneous audience clap-along and loud, intense musical crescendo in short succession.

Sam Fender amd his band perform at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on 07 May 2019 (Simon Reed)

And, given the most raucous response of the night, the instantly memorable Hypersonic Missiles hits as hard musically (killer guitar riff, seismic drumming, more sax) as it does lyrically (“The cities lie like tumours all across the world/ A cancer eating mankind, hitting it on blindside”). Exploding to life from a quiet voice-and-guitar intro, the title track of his forthcoming debut album is loud and powerful, but so is the audience singalong.

Sam Fender amd his band perform at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on 07 May 2019 (Simon Reed)

Their response is almost as intense for Leave Fast. Performed solo by Fender, the stripped-back vocal and guitar rendition really showcases his third gift: a voice with range, power, and soul. Always impassioned but never forced, it vividly brings to life the deeply personal song about his hometown.

Sam Fender amd his band perform at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on 07 May 2019 (Simon Reed)

His voice continues to dominate on a one-man makeover of Poundshop Kardashians. The shimmering studio version is dismantled to its bare bones, but that just gives the crowd even more licence to clap out the beat and provide rowdy backing vocals.

Sam Fender amd his band perform at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on 07 May 2019 (Simon Reed)

Bringing the solo interlude to a close is the downbeat, on the pulse White Privilege (namechecking issues like Brexit, phone addiction, social media echo chambers, outrage culture, mansplaining), which ends with Fender letting that voice fly, to devastating effect.

Sam Fender amd his band perform at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on 07 May 2019 (Simon Reed)

It would be a bit of a downer to end such an otherwise exuberant gig on thoughts of the patriarchy, the right-wing press, and “smug liberal arrogance”. So Fender brings back the band for a riotous, feelgood take on Morning Glory, the Oasis song released the year before he was born. He plays it like it’s one of his own. The kids down the front lap it up, but it’s the grin on Fender’s face that really reflects just how much fun tonight’s been.

Sam Fender amd his band perform at O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on 07 May 2019 (Simon Reed)

Review of Sam Fender at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 7th May 2019 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Simon Reed.

Crawlers @ Rough Trade East (Paul Lyme)

Crawlers Deliver A Valentine’s Treat At Rough Trade East

The queue stretches down through the glowing Shoreditch street for half a block. Someone’s cut out hundreds of pink...
Alice Cooper @ The O2 Arena (Kalpesh Patel)

Alice Cooper Announces UK Tour Including Hammersmith London Shows

Icon, pioneer, and Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee Alice Cooper has achieved so much in his lengthy career. But...
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes @ Roundhouse (Nick Allan)

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes’ Dark Rainbows Shine At The Roundhouse

Few musicians and artists that I’ve followed over the years have evolved as much as Frank Carter has since I first saw him fronting Gallows when they opened for the MC5/DTK at the Underworld in Camden back in December 2006, back when I described Frank as a Wee Ginger Gobshite who offered out the audience for a fight, Now nearly 18 years later Frank is playing two nights At The Roundhouse to celebrate the release of dark Rainbow his fifth album with The Rattlesnakes.

Megan Moroney (David McClister)

Georgia’s EMO Cowgirl Megan Moroney To Bring Nashville To The UK

Self-described “emo cowgirl” Megan Moroney has announced her return to the UK for seven headline dates in September,...
McFly (Press)

McFly To Celebrate 21 Years With Massive O2 Arena Show

It’s been 21 years since McFly first formed, a journey which has taken them from their breakthrough hit Five Colours...
The Schizophonics @ Moth Club (Pauline Di Silvestro)

A Lesson Of Rock’N’Roll To The People Of Hackney, By The Schizophonics

It was an average Wednesday night for many people in Hackney, just trying to get through the rest of the winter while...
Mother Mother Mackenzie Walker scaled

Mother Mother Explore Their Grief Chapter

Canada’s biggest alt-rock export Mother Mother have released their highly anticipated album Grief Chapter. The album...
Freya Beer (Press)

Freya Beer Shares Latest Single Write Her Off (WHO)

West London's Freya Beer has released her brand new single Write Her Off (WHO). “You’ve got lust in your eyes and it...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share Thing