Last weekend, Rock N Roll Circus took over Sheffield’s Don Valley Bowl – and it was an event like no other. The first of its kind, the Rock N Roll Circus mixes the best in musical talent with the weird and wonderful world of the circus. Alongside artists performances on the Big Top and BBC Introducing stage, there was an array of talent to keep your eye out for – from aerialists to stilt walkers. Saturday’s line-up saw Yorkshire’s finest, Self Esteem (aka Rebecca Lucy Taylor), headline and as always, she was joined by a wealth of special guests.
After a set of indie classics from everyone’s favourite Arctic Monkeys tribute band, the Arctic Numpties, drag punk icon Bimini delighted the crowd with a captivating performance of high energy tracks that certainly made a lasting impression. Next up was Natalie Imbruglia, with a career spanning set that showcased her strong vocals and buoyant stage presence. Regularly interacting with the crowd while she danced around the stage – without missing a note, may I add – Natalie’s career has gone from strength to strength and newer tracks including the soaring ‘Build It Better’ received an electric reaction. Of course, there was one song in particular that everybody wanted to hear and that was ‘Torn’. With its powerful vocals, haunting lyrics and mournful guitar, ‘Torn’ has become quite the anthem since its release in 1997 and Natalie embraced its popularity from the second that she introduced it as the penultimate track of her set.
The final support slot came from Australia’s Confidence Man, who delivered a joyous blast of energy from start to finish. With strobing costumes and slick choreography, it was impossible not to be transfixed by the band’s leading duo, Janet Planet and Sugar Bones. Though the chaos wasn’t just at the front of the stage and Clarence McGuffie and Reggie Goodchild were on decks and drums at the back, taking care of the breakbeats and piano stabs that we’ve come to associate with some of their biggest hits – including ‘Toy Boy’ and ‘Break It Bought It’. The band’s set came to a euphoric end with the infectiously catchy ‘Holiday’, which had everybody dancing from front to back. The band left the stage to an electric atmosphere – and with Self Esteem to go, the voltage was sure to go up!
The announcement that Self Esteem was headlining came on the back of her two consecutive sell-out shows at O2 Academy Sheffield in March. Though not only was the show another chance for fans to see her in her hometown, it was actually their last chance to see her in her current era. Having extensively toured her Mercury nominated album, Prioritise Pleasure, over the last couple of years, the acclaimed artist announced that the show would be the final show of the album cycle before she moved on to the next chapter.
As the glitching synths of ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ filled the tent, you could almost feel the emotion in the air and Rebecca was welcomed to the stage with what can only be described as rapturous applause. The powerful ‘Fucking Wizardry’ followed and based on the amount of people screaming along with the gospel tinged chorus, it was clear to see that the rhythmic track has become one of Self Esteem’s many anthems. ‘Moody’ came next – another crowd favourite that shone the spotlight on the band’s flawless choreography – before Rebecca brought the tempo down with a hauntingly beautiful rendition of ‘Just Kids’ from the front of the stage.
Despite not possessing a huge budget, Self Esteem continually succeeds in bringing a huge scale production to a small stage and during a brief audio clip from Happy Valley, her band conducted a slick outfit change that matched the red lighting for the first new track of the evening. Titled ‘Mother’, the dark rumbling track has become quite the crowd favourite and perfectly demonstrates Rebecca’s ambition and desire to continually experiment with her sound. After an intensely percussive performance of ‘How Can I Help You’, which takes aim at the misogynistic standards and objectification that women are subjected to, it was time for another new track – ‘Love Second’. A slow burner, ‘Love Second’ is an atmospheric track that builds to a rattling climax and has future single written all over it.
Self Esteem’s debut album was represented next with ‘Girl Crush’ and the love and respect between Rebecca and her backing band couldn’t have been more evident. From shared smiles and glances, to their energy and enthusiasm, they were all in their element and were committed to making the last show of the Prioritise Pleasure era a huge celebration. As a solo Rebecca stepped forward with her guitar, the next track commanded a pin drop moment – and it received it. Showcasing the utter strength of Rebecca’s vocals, ‘John Elton’ is one of her most heartbreaking tracks and though it lowered the tempo, it certainly didn’t lower the atmosphere.
The main set came to an end with a triple whammy of singles, starting with the poignant ‘345’, before Rebecca and co launched into ‘You Forever’ – an empowering track that possesses a funky and sharp bass-line that had everybody in the tent dancing. Last but certainly not least was ‘I Do This All The Time’ – a perfect set closer that saw Rebecca use spoken word verses to explore how complicated it is to be human. Potentially the biggest Self Esteem track to date, the delicate track not only explores Rebecca’s vulnerable side, but it features some of her most relatable lyrics – and it was more than apparent that they meant everything to the majority of the crowd.
With emotions running high, Self Esteem returned to the stage for a three-song encore. First up was ‘I’m Fine’ – with lyrics that address the issues of sexual assault consent, the track saw Rebecca and band move to the front of the stage to share a cathartic moment with the crowd as every person in the tent barked and howled like dogs. It was a liberating moment for anyone who’s ever been made to feel unsafe while simply going about their day – something that you wouldn’t experience at any other show. Though Self Esteem shows aren’t like any other show and the one thing that you can always count on is being in a room (or a tent, or a field) full of love, unity and respect. After catapulting into the perfect pop track that is ‘The Best’, Self Esteem brought the show to an end with a breathtaking performance of ‘Still Reigning’, which saw Rebecca and her band hold hands before taking their well-deserved bows. As the house lights came on and Shirley Bassey‘s ‘This Is My Life’ blared out of the speakers, the band conga’d off the stage one final time.
The Prioritise Pleasure era may be over, but it couldn’t have ended with a better show. This album cycle finally gained Rebecca the recognition that she deserves. With talent and ambition that’s truly unmatched, there really is no other artist doing what Rebecca is as Self Esteem and her next chapter is sure to be as explosive as ever.