The Return of a truly great British Pop Group
I have been to many pop concerts over the years. I even recall seeing a previous Steps concert back in their 1990s heyday and to enjoying every minute of it at the time. Of all the pure pop concerts I have seen over the years however nothing prepared me for what amounts to one of the most spectacular live concert comebacks in UK pop history. Steps new show ‘the Ultimate tour’ is quite simply one of the best produced most professionally performed pop shows I have ever seen. Mixing Vegas production values with competent often soaring vocals and a well chosen selection of pulsating pop music, the result is a triumph and puts the former pop superstars firmly back in the limelight. The capacity crowd at Dublin’s biggest indoor arena the O2 were enraptured by the show from start to finish. Opening the previous night in Belfast and working its way around the UK to a sold out 2 night run at London’s O2 later in the tour, the newly reformed Steps comeback show is truly a spectacular nights entertainment.
From the outset the new show grabs and holds the attention with intricate 3D graphic backdrops, innovative set designs and a brilliant troupe of dancers who mix eroticism with amazing performance technique. At the centre of it all the triumphant live return of one of the best British pop acts of all time. Unsurprisingly the greatest hits feature heavily throughout from the innocent debut single ‘5.6.7,8’ to the sophisticated slick pop sound of later hits like ‘Deeper Shade of Blue’ and ‘Summer of Love’. So too do ‘Steptacular’ solo interpretations by band members of more recent pop classics such as Maroon 5s ‘Moves Like Jagger’ remixed with Rhinanna’s S&M, Jennifer Hudson‘s smash One Night Only to a surreal rendition of the Celine Dion power ballad ‘I Surrender’ performed by Claire Richards, always the strongest singer in the group but in her own right one of the best female pop voices of her era. The show rarely stumbles nor does it stray too far into nostalgia preferring instead to reposition the classic Steps material in a new more confident and mature setting. The finale, lasting almost twenty minutes and ending with the inevitable ‘Tragedy’ (their biggest hit) is one of the most frenzied pop set pieces ever staged working the audience into a true pure pop music high in every way as intense as any opera or rock performance.
Often derided in the 1990s simply for being a pop act in an era when pop itself was seen as deeply uncool by elements of the British music press, they were in many senses the sole occupants of the pure pop space. This was something at which the British had so excelled in the past but which the music establishment became deeply uncomfortable with in the era of Britpop, a misnomer if ever there was one. Bands like Blur, Pulp and others were not Pop bands at all. They were indie inspired rock bands. Therein lay the difficulty for bands like Steps who found their often brilliant pop music dismissed by a music establishment who simply could not or would not recognise the validity of a great ‘Pop’ band. This despite their huge commercial success and a slew of truly great hit records probably eventually led to the band‘s early break up depriving British pop prematurely of one of its few great acts. Rock and Pop are not the same thing, they are distinct musical genres and need to be recognised as such. The failure to appreciate this has led to the now fractured nature of popular music in general and to a decline in live music performances and thus a music industry in crisis. Co-existing rather than mutual intolerance could lead to a new era of great distinct rock and pop acts emerging rather than the consistent demonisation of fun escapist pop by a jaded narrow elitist music press. Steps suffered the same fate as their idols ABBA in the 1970s. It is often now forgotten that ABBA while massively successful were, at their peak, also deeply derided by the music press. Like ABBA it is only many years later that a true impartial assessment of their discography shows us just what a great pop band Steps were and still are.
It is interesting that despite a recent number 1 UK chart placing for their greatest hits collection, the band seem to be having difficulty getting a release date for their new material. Lets hope that the rumoured deal with Universal leads to a new second era of Steps original pop music introducing a whole new generation to the art form that is fun escapist pop music. Welcome back Steps, a great pop band. The new concert tour is quite simply their best to date. If over cautious record companies allow, Steps could easily be poised to produce a whole new cluster of modern pop hits as the energy of the band and the enthusiasm of the fans seems undiminished.
Steps the ultimate tour continues around the UK until end of May 2012 with special appearances later in 2012 at various festival venues.
Daniel Lindon April 2012