It could’ve all been so different. Claire Richards, Lisa Scott-Lee, Lee Latchford-Evans, Faye Tozer and Ian ‘H’ Watkins could all too easily have joined Ann Lee and Alice Deejay in the one hit wonder hall of almost-fame. Techno hoedown debut 5, 6, 7, 8 could have cemented Steps as nothing more than an ill-fated school disco staple.
Instead, the group are almost a quarter of a decade into their career and playing to a sold out O2 Arena. But this is no mistake; it’s no fluke. Steps have earned their stripes as the UK’s best pop act in the face of ‘guilty pleasure’ labels and musical snobbery. 14,000 fans are here to see their faves completely unashamedly; flashing devil horns and all.
Unfortunately, despite Faye returning from isolation for the second London date after suffering from COVID-19, Lee is absent from tonight’s show following a positive test. But, while he’ll obviously be missed, the crowd’s still determined to have the night of their lives.
As the lights go down and the arena erupts with excitement, Steps launch straight into Sia-penned smash What The Future Holds; the band donning superhero-esque capes and asserting their status as pop royalty. Next up, it’s those iconic opening chords of One For Sorrow blasting around the arena. You soon realise this is going to be a two-hour tour de force; absolutely no bar breaks. Should probably have gone for another wee beforehand, too.
Steps have made a rod for their own back when it comes to sorting out their setlist. Boasting over two decades’ worth of brilliance in their back catalogue, the group are spoilt for choice as they navigate nineties bangers, fan favourites and their stellar new material. The show’s opening section encapsulates their entire discography perfectly; showcasing singles from 1998 right up to 2021’s Take Me for a Ride. Michelle Visage collaboration Heartbreak in this City also proves their recent material translates just as well live as those older classics.
Following a cute ‘60s doo-wop interlude, Steps perform a fresh take on 5, 6, 7, 8 with an inspired Groove is in the Heart interpolation. For even the most die-hard of Steps fans, this show offers something totally new. With Lee out of action, the group ask the audience to step up and fill in for his iconic rap; putting the lyrics on-screen for a mass sing-a-long (as if we don’t know them by heart already).
The group continue to hurtle on through Something in Your Eyes, a new iteration of After the Love Has Gone, the finally-resurrected Say You’ll Be Mine (which proved a rather unexpected crowd favourite) and Chain Reaction; complete with camp-as-tits drum breakdown. It truly is bop after bop with no room for a breather. Somehow, despite the incessant energy and challenging choreography, the band’s vocals never falter. Heartbeat’s a true highlight of this tour; the stripped-back instrumental allowing Steps to showcase those powerhouse pop vocals.
It’s easy to see why they bagged that Best Live Act BRIT Award at the turn of the millennium when they’re still serving so hard 21 years later.
Just when you thought Steps had already chucked everything and the kitchen sink at this show, they amp up the extra even more for their performance of 2001 hit It’s The Way You Make Me Feel; donning Dangerous Liaisons-inspired dress and prompting an empowering speech from H.
“When I was a little boy, I knew exactly who I was,” he tells the crowd. “But I was too afraid to say it,” he explains; referring to his sexuality. “I’d like to thank you for letting me feel safe on this stage tonight.” To huge applause as the arena erupts with adoration, H continues to raise awareness of trans rights (“there is no LGBT without the T”) and celebrate any fans struggling with their own identities.
From there, it’s straight into their poppers o’clock cover of Five Star’s The Slightest Touch (cue the crowd eating out of the palm of Claire’s hand after THAT middle eight moment) and brand new single A Hundred Years of Winter; a melancholy masterpiece penned by none other than Savage Garden’s Darren Hayes. This is a moment in which Lee’s particularly missed; his verse being a highlight of the song.
Even as the band perform their newer tracks, the crowd doesn’t let up. This setlist is perfectly balanced, meaning there’s never more than five minutes without a proper, huge hit moment. This is, in part, the key to Steps’ enduring success; their self-awareness. The band are so in tune with what makes them so special; and are more than happy to cater to the more casual fans looking for a night of nostalgia.
On that, the band transport us straight back to the nineties with Better The Devil You Know (complete with iconic, modernised interpolation of Madonna’s Vogue), underrated Steps banger Summer of Love (our highlight of the entire show) and Better Best Forgotten in its entirety for the first time since 2012’s The Ultimate Tour. Incredible.
Surely that’s it, right? We’ve had almost two hours of back-to-back bops at this point. What is there left to give?
Er, nope. After Deeper Shade of Blue acts as the faux-finale, the band return for the encore with Here and Now to rapturous applause. Scared of the Dark, their huge 2016 comeback single, follows and proves it’s cemented its status as a Steps classic alongside the best of their ‘90s output. Tragedy concludes the set, leaving the audience on a complete high.
See you at their 2022 25th anniversary summer shows, yeah? DEAL.