Sam Fender at St James Park
As with Toon games, the gig starts with United intro theme Mark Knopfler’s ‘Coming Home’, before saxophonist Johnny ‘blue hat’ Davis emerges with a four-piece horn section, the Benwell Brass, to blast out the Champions’ League anthem.
Rocking a fetching mullet a la Paul Mescal in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Fender kicks off with the Strokes-style stomper ‘Will We Talk’ followed by the tentatively hopeful, propulsive ‘Getting Started’: both panoramic tunes that demonstrate that this is music that was always intended for big spaces.
Later, adding to the homecoming vibe, the band are joined by Fender’s brother Liam to perform Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’ (Fender has never been one to shy away from acknowledging his debt to The Boss as the cheeky Asbury Park-style merch attests). It’s a fairly touching, if indulgent moment, with Liam’s vocal, alas, getting a bit lost in the occasionally soupy sound.
Cover version aside, the set at this point feels like a consolidation, a story-so-far set, with no tantalising glimpses of what comes next. Still, the thrashing black comic paranoia of live favourite ‘Howden Aldi Death Queue’ (‘Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, that's less than two meters!’) is a riotous adrenaline rush, and the band’s augmented horn section provide a lovely wall of sound accompaniment on ‘Get You Down’.
The exultant vibe is turned to eleven when Fender is joined by his guitar teacher Phil Martin, and the mooted, much-speculated-on special guest, local legend AC/DC’s Brian Johnson. Age has not withered Johnson’s strangulated rock squall and Fender’s band manage a very canny replication of ‘Back in Black’s’ hip hop-friendly metronome pound and compressed guitar sound, as well as the lewd Stones-like swagger of ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. Your favourite heavy metal uncle Johnson is clearly relishing being back in the game to the extent that he momentarily forgets he is performing two songs, not one, and Fender has to gently shepherd him back.
The never-more-apposite 'Saturday' has the 50,000 fans singing along rowdily, and with the climactic double whammy of ‘Seventeen Going Under’ and ‘Hypersonic Missiles’, alienation and desperation have never sounded so triumphal and uplifting.
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Photo credit: Niall Lea