Rebecca Lucy Taylor AKA Self Esteem is a bona fide pop superstar. And pop superstars need to go big on their live shows. This hometown gig features costume changes, a five-piece band and a killer light show. Taylor enters the stage atop some huge steps holding a pose as the audience literally screams for a full minute following her arrival. Self Esteem is no longer Sheffield’s best-kept secret. This is a returning hero making a triumphant homecoming after conquering the world.
Backed by her usual trio of backing singers and dancers made up of Marged Sion, Levi Heaton and Seraphina D’Arby, as well as multi-instrumentalist Sophie Galpin and drummer Mike Park, Self Esteem kicks off with a trio of bangers from her triumphant second album ‘Prioritise Pleasure’. The title track sums up how the audience has taken to Taylor’s message of self-acceptance with the refrain of ‘I’m free’ screamed back at the stage by the adoring crowd. ‘Fucking Wizardy’ sees the whole room go fucking nuts before Taylor informs the crowd that the next song is for anyone who is a ‘moody bitch’ – the track is ‘Moody’, the atmosphere at the Sheffield Academy is anything but.
The backing band leave the stage for a heartfelt acoustic performance of ‘Just Kids’, but not before Taylor tells the crowd off for talking over her ‘feelings’. Suitably chastised, you can hear a pin drop for the rest of the track and it is beautifully performed with Taylor’s voice soaring through the cavernous venue. She really does have a voice for the ages. It is a privilege to hear her sing such an emotive song in such an intimate way.
Following a brief audio clip of Happy Valley’s Catherine Cawood, Taylor’s spirit animal, the backing band return to the stage in red jumpsuits and ski masks for bruising new song ‘Mother’. This is an interesting direction for Self Esteem, sitting closer to the Prodigy or the Chemical Brothers than anything on her first two records but the defiant lyrics and pounding drums ensure that it all comes together.
The addition of two additional drums atop the raised platform can only mean one thing – set highlight ‘How Can I Help You’. The album version of this track doesn’t do justice to the sheer gut punch that is the live version with Taylor snarling and sneering her way through the first part of the song before pounding on the drums for the rest of it. An arresting sight.
First album ‘Compliments Please’ is represented by the pure pop perfection of ‘Girl Crush’ before ‘The 345’ and its massive chorus really drives home how this is not just a singer and her backing band, this lot is as much a gang as any of the boring indie-lad bands out there who all secretly hate each other. This is my third time seeing Self Esteem and what has shone through on each occasion is just how much this group adore each other. This affection is infectious and holds the key to Self Esteem’s runaway success. We all want to be part of the gang too.
‘I Do This All the Time’ closes out the first part of the set and this is truly one of those songs that everyone should endeavour to see live before they die. I can’t recall ever seeing a song shouted back at the stage with as much enthusiasm as Sheffield muster here, and as the song builds to its unstoppable crescendo, you can feel the goosebumps and the hairs on end at the back of your neck. What a moment. What a song.
The band return to the stage with ‘I’m Fine’ before breakout single ‘The Best’ reminds everyone of just how great a songwriter Taylor is. Sure, her experimental stuff is ground-breaking, but she knows her way around a three-minute pop song just as well. The evening ends with a triumphant run-through of ‘Still Reigning’ and as I look around me and see so many people singing along with their eyes closed, utterly lost in a reverie, it is touching to see just how inspiring and important this music has become.
To summarise, this is a transcendental homecoming for Rebecca Lucy Taylor and Self Esteem. Arena tours and festival headline slots beckon.
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