Outsideleft Gig of the Year
Hare and Hounds
I can remember the moment in 2017 when a radio broadcaster, announced the break-up of a mildly diverting indie-folk duo and revealed that the female singer was considering pursuing something a bit more ‘pop’. The mix of incredulity and slight derision at the mention of the word ‘pop’ was palpable.
Moving forward to November 2021, the singer whose ‘pop’ aspirations seemed so baffling four years ago is performing a sell-out tour to ecstatic crowds on the back of one of the most critically lauded albums of the year. If you have Googled the words ‘Self Esteem’ before April this year, you would have been directed to numerous self-help websites, now multiple images of Rebecca Lucy Taylor stare back at you.
Tonight, The Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath, Birmingham is packed. Self Esteem’s show feels to be more than a mere gig more than just a wonderfully choreographed performance, it is a celebration. One of those moments when an audience lets an artist know that they’ve grasped the messages (unapologetically being yourself, overcoming those self-catastrophising voices and, ultimately, prioritising pleasure). And they’re doing it loudly.
The first indication that the audience is totally on side comes during the snatch of recorded conversation in opener ‘I’m Fine’ :“…if we are approached by a group of men we will bark like dogs…there is nothing that terrifies a man more than a woman that appears completely deranged” . The recorded howling is repeated by the crowd at a velocity that resembles a Dog Sanctuary on Fireworks Night. It is a brilliant moment of solidarity and defiance.
However, it’s during ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ that the show explodes as backing vocalists Levi and Marged step forth, move either side of Taylor and the trio break into exquisite Blonde Ambition-esque dance routines. Rarely have I seen the, shall we say, intimate stage of the Hare & Hounds used so fully. The message at the heart of ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ – the moving out of the darkness and into the light is key to many of the songs tonight. ‘How Can I Help You?’ swipes at the misogyny and objectification that Taylor has experienced and it’s cathartic to hear so many people holler back to the ‘I Don’t Know Shit’ chorus. The delirious ‘Moody’ may also be the moment when the entire crowd decides to dance whilst chanting along with the spelt-out chorus. These are insatiable pop-smart songs, piercing lyrics and a voice that demands that you pay attention.
But there are moments of tenderness too, the emotional shortcomings of pre-break up ballad ‘Still Reigning’ and the ‘John Elton’ are tinged with regret. But it is ‘I Do It All the Time’ that steals the show. A song of unflinching honest that, for many of the crowd, was their introduction to Self Esteem, it’s the moment that everyone knows every word to. The moment that everyone will remember.
As I leave the show, I think back to that moment in 2017, when the ‘pop’ ambitions of the former singer of an indie-folk duo was deemed to be so trivial and foolish, and all the ‘silly girl’ sexism of it all. And then I realise that Rebecca Lucy Taylor is having the hard-earned last laugh. And long may she do so.
Images by Jay Lewis