Live Report: Self Esteem – Albert Hall, Manchester

A night of collective power...

Self Esteem is a superpower of pop. At the first night of her three-show residency (albeit one split over three weeks) at Manchester’s Albert Hall, she is a sheer force of nature, a triple-threat as musicians go: performance, emotion, necessity. I Tour This All The Time is her belated victory run in support of Mercury nominated album ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ and its lead single ‘I Do This All The Time’ – easily earning the label ‘seminal’ even just a year-odd after its release – but Rebecca Lucy Taylor brings energy from a far wider pool of influences than the already-striking record. 

As well as ‘Prioritise Pleasure’, RLT composed the score for the Jodie Comer show Prima Facie, a one-woman spectacle that tracks a cutthroat sexual assault lawyer navigate and negotiate between her abstract love and trust in The Law and the way that it routinely fails victims of sex-related crimes. It’s a harrowing, brilliant watch, and there’s elements of its piercing, painful theatricality running through tonight’s show, though with a more lighthearted slant. 

Taylor is backed by a group of three dancers, who weave the stories and atmospheres of each song onstage with the body as the instrument, as tangible as their backing vocals. Each track is an individual play with a story to be shared, be it the soliloquising ‘I Do This All The Time’ (which the crowd chant along like a Greek chorus), or the writhing, devilish ‘Mother’, which sees the gang silhouetted in a red glow. 

Emotion comes into play running through the evocative thrall of Self Esteem onstage, but more so, it emanates from every screaming, singing fan crammed into Albert Hall’s modest space. There’s no better stage for the show, under industrial-traditional arches and grandeur, but if there was a way to cram more people into this room, they’d come. The addition of two further dates is negated by the fact that a decent proportion of those here scream when Self Esteem asks “who’s doing the triple?” – once is not enough. There’s a boyband-like furore around the stage, every word sung back, passionate excitement for each and every track – except Self Esteem is not a manufactured boyband, we don’t feel this way about her because we’ve been cleverly marketed to, we feel this way because she speaks to our very psyche in a way few others do. 

There are more moments where this emotional collective moves through the crowd than it’s possible to count – filling in the yell of “SOME FUCKING WIZARDRY” at a half-speed pace for impact, the elation as the opening bars of ‘How Can I Help You’ ring out, or even the heavy, adoring silence that falls over the crowd as Self Esteem performs new song ‘Love Second’. This is no one’s quick trip to the bar or the loo, as is often customary for 1. New songs and 2. Acoustic songs, as Self Esteem performs without the dancers and drama, just her and a guitar. This is magic, and we remain captivated. 

The emotion is returned, too – “we’ve really been jonesing for a Manchester crowd,” Taylor says through tears towards the end of the set. As much as we’ve all spent the last hour looking up to her with ardent admiration, the leader of this messy band of people finding meaning, we’re reminded that she voices our feelings so well because she feels them too. At the end of ‘Be Fine’, we all come together – Taylor, the dancers, every voice in the room – in a cathartic, gorgeous moment to howl as one. For first time Self Esteem gig attendees, you might feel self conscious, but the room is so saturated in joy, care, and freedom that the feeling slips away. And that’s really the crux of Self Esteem’s show, music, ethos, and being: no shame, no self-consciousness, all collective power. 

Words: Ims Taylor

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.