Self Esteem

Self Esteem @ o2 Institute Birmingham, 2nd March 2023

Self Esteem at the o2 Institute

There are those that will never feel the pang of dissatisfaction and disappointment with the options being offered up on the cultural menu. Those happy to source their nutritional needs from the choices that cater for the masses will continue to exist unimpeded, but there will be those that fall between the cracks, those that are not catered for, and those that must find a way to escape a malnourished soul by finding an alternate source that will support existence. Step forwards, Rebecca Lucy Taylor – AKA, Self Esteem – forced by necessity to produce art on terms that are resolutely their own, and in doing so, find an audience that are ferocious in their consumption of all things Taylor.

self esteem

The Institute hall is packed and it feels as if all the gaps and pockets of space between the expectant audience have been eaten up by a sense of pure anticipation. The stage is unaccompanied in these anticipatory moments with the exception of the bands instruments and a small staircase that occupies the centre of the stage which encourages the mind to turn somersaults as to what is about to play out.

The moment has arrived, well, almost. The robust and resolute rhythm section of Sophie Galpin (vocals, bass and keyboard) and Mike Park (drums) emerge on stage, accompanied by a trio of Taylor’s dancers and backing vocalists (Marged Siôn, Levi Heaton and Seraphina Simone) who have ahead of them, a formidable challenge, given the sheer physicality of this evening’s performance that lies ahead.

self esteem

A darkness descends upon the stage, punctuated by pulsating teasers of the opening to the single ‘Prioritise Pleasure’. Each thunderous exclamation is accompanied by a blinding burst of light and a choreographed flinch of position by the dancers. After the monetary flourish of activity, the stage is once again hushed and the cloud of darkness returns, and then Taylor arrives and ascends the steps of the centre-piece before launching a full force assault that makes the first few songs feel like a encore rather than the opening of a set. The house lights are turned up to the max and both artist and audience see each other for the first time, a union where neither can hide from the other,  and it would appear that neither would want to.

The recently released and Mercury Music Prize shortlisted album, ‘Prioritise Pleasure’, unsurprisingly dominates the setlist for the tonight. ‘Fucking Wizardry’, ‘Moody’ and ‘Just Kids’ form part of an exhilarating first third that whips the audience up into a fervent display of adoration.

self esteem

The grey suits are shedded in full view of the audience in favour of red bodystockings, peppered with flourishes of PVC accoutrements, with Taylor donning a red PVC hat. ‘Mother’ and ‘How Can I Help You’ maintain the propulsive intensity of the set, which should come as no surprise given Taylor’s close affinity and percussive duties during the Slow Club years.

Taylor has been quoted as describing her performances as some kind of “horrible church” and the songs which lead the audience to sing-a-long with a joyous spirituality do add a certain gospel vibe to proceedings. This evening’s performance encapsulates an artist that is operating on the same plane as the audience, dealing with topics and issues that are universal to this crowd and the mutual love and affection is something to behold.

Review: Christ Curtis

Photographs: Ian Dunn


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