Self Esteem

Albert Hall Manchester // Friday 18th March 2023

“Self-Esteem” – a MoshMag review by Jess Mason

It was the second night of a trio of sold out shows at Manchester Albert Hall, and the ex-Methodist church with its stained-glass windows and grandiose architecture looked as if it was custom-made for the goddess-like popstar Self Esteem. 

Despite coming to the end of I Tour This All The Time – a lap of honour for Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s 2021 record Prioritise Pleasure, which was performed nearly in its entirety – the energy and vocals remained unmatched to most live performances I have witnessed. 

Although the Manchester crowd was not joined by Mr Blobby like the previous night in London, it was an all-out three part show full of meaningful costume changes, funky choreography, and next-level production. 

Kickstarting the Saturday night was a double bill of Toms, who in the true words of Rebecca Lucy Taylor herself were “fucking brilliant”- Tom Rasmussen and Tom Aspaul. It was my second time seeing Tom Rasmussen, and their graceful dancing to booming beats and music which celebrates the beauty of the trans community never fails to move me. Followed by Tom Aspaul, who was sporting the most outrageously gorgeous sparkly leopard print trousers. However, another highlight was of course his disco sounding tunes which had the groove of Jessie Ware and hooks of Years & Years. 

Then it was time for Self Esteem – not only one of my favourite contestants on Channel 4’s Taskmaster, but also one of my favourite stage performers I have seen yet. 

“Listen to my body // We haven’t been in touch much lately”, the first lyrics of the evening  from her sophomore album’s title track Prioritise Pleasure reflecting on the fact women’s sexual needs are often undermined. It sets the tone for a night of witty and personal music exploring sex, misogyny, and self-expectance. 

A perfect opening choice, with crunchy guitars and thundering drums alongside the gospel sounding chorus “I’m free” earnestly exploding out of nowhere with help from her amazingly talented group of dancers and singers Marged Sion, Levi Heaton and Seraphina D’Arby. It is clear Taylor knows exactly what Self Esteem is as an artist and is free to express herself however she wants. 

While the stage design of a set of white marble stairs is simple, it is effective, with Rebecca always on the top step under a spotlight where she belongs looking up to the ceiling with a religious type of presence. 

Dressed stylishly in a dark grey baggy suit with a red lip and black gloves, she tried to remain in her bad bitch character, but couldn’t help smirking at the crowd’s reaction and looked taken back. I have personally never heard a crowd applaud so loud, and I have been to a lot of gigs. 

Keeping up this energy and sticking to her more pop inspired collection of songs, next to follow was a rather angrily delivered Fucking Wizardry with jungle-esque sounding drums by the brilliant ‘token male’ Mike Park, who has worked with the likes of Nova Twins, Phoebe Green and The Big Moon. 

It is strange to imagine that Taylor was once part of the indie-folk duo Slow Club as she effortlessly struts around stage popping and locking to one of her most synth-heavy sugary-pop tunes where it’s chorus humorously spells out ‘Moody’ instead of something typically love themed. 

I was amazed to see that even the multi-talented musician Sophie Galpin was simultaneously playing and performing some of the choreographed dance movements – as if moving between the bass, drums, keys and vocals wasn’t enough already! 

Ending the first section of the show was the spoken word and string orientated Just Kids, with Self Esteem proving herself to be one of the best current lyricists “Nothing ever really flowed // Constant square peg, round hole”. All while allowing her South Yorkshire accent to still breakthrough, another thing I love about the artist. 

During an interlude of Catherine Cawood’s voice, Taylor’s spirit animal, from the hit BBC TV show Happy Valley, the grey co-ords were stripped off by the whole entourage to reveal full-body tight red catsuits and leather harnesses, with even Park now drumming with a balaclava on. 

Re-emerging on stage in a cowboy hat, looking like a sexy red version of Jim Carey’s The Mask, the show started back up again with a new electronic song Mother, exploring the idea of an ex not taking enough responsibility within their life. 

The montage of Sarah Lancashire’s voice now making sense as her onscreen character shares a similar ‘I am not your mother’ attitude. 

This seemingly new direction for Self Esteem flowed seamlessly into How Can I Help You, paying homage to Kanye West’s Black Skinhead and Taylor’s punkier roots. A fierce song about the struggles of being a woman, a people pleaser and working in the music industry, she takes the stage and finishes off the song by playing drums at the top of the stairs. 

Ticking off another experimental genre, another unreleased song Love Second is whipped up by the crowd, a hyper-pop autotune sexy number with Charli XCX influences. 

The middle section of the performance is ended after a short visit to Self Esteem’s 2019 debut album Compliments Please with Girl Crush, in which her trio of dancers melt into her body and they all smear the makeup that was once perfect on their face. It remains this way for the rest of the show, almost as a symbol of pride of not conforming to society’s beauty standards. 

Returning to stage alone, this time in a black trouser and sultry crop blazer outfit, Taylor is met with several cheers and ‘I love you-s’ to which she humorously replied, “I love you too, but I am horrible in person”. 

The most ‘human’ she has been all night, she did a solo performance of John Elton while playing guitar. People in the audience were singing along, but almost like a whisper as they desired to hear her power-house vocals. It was that quiet that you could hear the buzz of the aircon, and it was enough to give you goosebumps. 

However, the crowd didn’t stay still for long as they came back alive to the beats of The 345, a very on-the-nose love song to herself about having purpose in life and just having fun “Don’t have to stick to a plan // Just living”; a song that everyone needs to belt out live. Channelling Lizzo vibes, Self Esteem is like all the best pop stars wrapped up into one. 

A night full of powerful pop songs that work well on stage and all genres moving from the deep funky bassline in You Forever to emotionally raw spoken word in I Do This All The Time. Evidently, Self Esteem’s honesty resonates with so many people as she sings about mental health “Except I am still breathing, aren’t I? // Sometimes I think that’s the problem“.

It is not only lyrics about mental health that the crowd connect to, but also female empowerment, as everyone bellowed back the lyrics “Yeah you scare me // Does that make you feel manly?” in the explosive kickstart to the encore with I’m Fine.  

Ending the night full circle with an audience member giving Rebecca a picture of Catherine Cawood, which was then placed in her bra for the duration of the performance, Self Esteem finished with Still Reigning, the sister song to She Reigns from her first record. Albert Hall was filled with the most outstanding vocals despite it being the end of the show – a true born performer.  

One of the main things I took away from the night was the genuine love felt between the performers on stage. They are at the back leg of the tour now and you can see the relationship they have built up – always kissing each other on the head, saying I love you to one-another and tightly squeezing each other’s hands. These tender embraces were the most moving thing of all. 

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