Stepping on to the hallowed stage at the Troubadour in Los Angeles is enough to leave any young musician feeling overawed. But on Monday night (Sept. 30) Sam Fender arrived at the West Hollywood venue with the words of Elton John ringing in his ears.
“He phoned me up today and said ‘you fucking better be ready for the Troubadour tonight,’” Fender told the crowd. The Rocket Man has become one of Fender’s biggest cheerleaders in recent times and wanted to weigh in with his special brand of encouragement before the singer appeared at a venue tied closely to John's own mythology.
For his part, Fender seemed understandably flabbergasted. “I cannot tell you how surreal our lives have become in the last six months,” he remarked. It’s only likely to get weirder, too. Just over a week ago, Fender dislodged Post Malone to hit No. 1 in the UK Album Chart with his debut, Hypersonic Missiles. He’s now on his first headline U.S. tour and word is spreading of his talent.
That word usually comes packaged with a Bruce Springsteen comparison, and it’s not without warrant. Fender excels at telling vivid, and often moving stories about characters that seem so real you can almost smell them, and that’s probably because they’re standing right next to you. The Strokes-like “We Will Talk” captures the awkward dialogue that follows a one-night stand, “The Borders” brings melancholic childhood memories to the forefront with it’s R.E.M.-style jangle, and “Dead Boys” — his breakout 2018 track — articulates the usually unspoken trauma of suicide.
They’re undoubtedly tales Fender has amassed from his upbringing in the town of Newcastle, England. But they’re also stories everyone knows, given life by Fender’s yearning and beautiful vocals, which remained intact all night, despite the singer battling a heavy cold.
Despite the darkness on the edge of his town, Fender does a fine line in banter and it gave his set welcome bursts of humor. He again acknowledged the Troubadour’s history; “I phoned my Gran and I said ‘John Denver’s been here!’” At one point, he held full conversations with individual members of the crowd, at least one of whom claimed to have attended the same high school as the headliner. That kind of intimate interaction seems to steady the 23-year-old. “Doesn’t matter where in the world you are, there’s always Geordies,” he laughed, reassured by the short back-and-forth with his tribe.
During a short, show-capping solo set (which featured a haunting version of album standout “Leave Fast”), the shadow of Bruce was given a voice by a crowd member, who shouted “Springsteen!!” — apparently as a request for one of Fender’s occasional Boss covers. “I’m not comfortable doing Springsteen on home turf,” came the flustered-sounding response. But Fender’s protestations didn’t last, and he delivered a gorgeous take on “Dancing in the Dark” that silenced the entire room. Elton would have been proud.