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29th November 2021

Live Review: Steps and Sophie Ellis-Bextor at AO Arena

Theatre Editor Jay Darcy reviews Steps and Sophie Ellis-Bextor at AO Arena
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Live Review: Steps and Sophie Ellis-Bextor at AO Arena
Photo: Jay Darcy @ The Mancunion.

A naughty night of nineties and noughties nostalgia. That’s how I’d describe Steps and Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s second date at Manchester’s AO Arena, which was announced due to phenomenal demand.

It is insane that a group that many thought would be a one-hit-wonder is still selling out arenas after all this time. Steps were originally together from 1997 until 2001, yet they pumped out so many hits during that short time.

Next year marks their 25th anniversary, and what a way to anticipate it with two #2 albums and a huge tour of their home country!

Steps were joined by disco diva Sophie Ellis-Bextor, aka “woman from kitchen disco”, who got the crowd ready for a wild night. It’s rare to see an arena so full for an opening act, but Ellis-Bextor is hardly your average support; she’s a successful, established artist in her own right.

I’m actually a far bigger Ellis-Bextor fan than I am a Steps one. She was my favourite singer as a kid (until Shakira knocked her off the top spot when she released ‘She Wolf’), and this was my third time seeing her. Next year will be my fourth time – and second at Bridgewater Hall!

She soothed souls with her signature cut-glass vocals, blasting through a sickening set that included her biggest hits: ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’ with Spiller, her cover of Cher’s ‘Take Me Home’, and ‘Get Over You’. The incredible, feminist music video of the latter made little me fall in love with her.

She also treated us to a beautiful rendition of Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’, as well as her cover of Alcazar’s ‘Crying at the Discoteque’ – the lead single from her latest album, Songs From the Kitchen Disco.

Whilst Sophie usually performs at much smaller venues, she commanded attention from the thousands of people in the audience, hypnotising us to commit murder on the dancefloor with our killer moves!

(Or, should I say – dahncefloor?)

Steps opened the show with the title song of their most recent two albums – and the namesake of this tour – ‘What The Future Holds.’ They descended from a giant cube that slowly sank from the roof to the stage, which had previously displayed a timer that counted down to their anticipated arrival.

What an entrance! Right from the get-go, it was clear that this was going to be one hell of a show.

With more costume changes than a magician’s glamorous assistant, more glamour than a glam rock band, and more drums than said glam rock band, they really threw everything at us but the kitchen sink.

Whilst some fans expressed annoyance that the What The Future Holds Tour (which is named after not one but two Steps albums) only featured six songs from said albums, it didn’t bother me so much. Steps have such a strong back catalogue that it’s hard to believe they were originally only together for a few years. Most people would rather hear the hits than the new material.

However, I was one of the many Steps fans that were gutted that ‘To The Beat Of My Heart’ was relegated to a clip in an interlude. All was not lost though, as they made up for it with an electrifying performance of ‘Take Me For A Ride’ and played a clip of Michelle Visage during ‘Heartbreak in This City’.

Whilst they chose to play it safe by performing hits over new material, they were bold enough to mix a few of these tunes up. They performed a slowed-down version of ‘5,6,7,8’ which was interesting, but a little disappointing. The song just isn’t the same without the fast-paced, country beats.

Their innovative performances of ‘Chain Reaction’ and ‘Better The Devil You Know’ were far superior.

As a huge Diana Ross fan, I’ve always dismissed Steps’ cover of ‘Chain Reaction’, but this performance was exhilarating. The pop group transformed into a marching band, banging on drums and singing their hearts out with great, big smiles on their faces. It was nice to see them having so much fun.

Likewise, their cover of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Better The Devil You Know’ (my favourite Kylie song) might not live up to the original, but their live performance was such a riot. It contained elements of Madonna’s ‘Vogue’, complete with vogue dancing and a revision of the bridge that replaced the Old Hollywood icons with 90s legends. The bridge replaced “Bette Davis, we love you” with “Britney Spears, we love you” – fitting and poetic given that this was the day that her conservatorship ended.

Their final song was, of course, ‘Tragedy’ – their best-selling single and a cover of the Bee Gees classic. The only tragedy was that the night was coming to an end, but what a way to bring it to an end! The show came full circle (or square), with Steps being spun around at the end of the “catwalk” before being sheltered by the cube that they descended from. This, along with the futuristic feel of the show, made it feel like Steps had made a brief trip to earth and were now returning from whatever whacky planet they hail from!

Steps’ UK tour continues throughout November until the 1st of December.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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