One thing that Steve Lacy seemingly can’t, or won’t repress is his flirting. As he slowly wriggles out of a pin-sharp black suit jacket, revealing just a loose strap vest underneath, he raises his left hand in coy circles, grinning as he carries a Saint Laurent-branded guitar in the other. “Reading, you are all so sexy,” says the 25-year-old after he wraps up ‘Helmet’, drawing out each syllable as he speaks. A panoramic shot lights up the supersize video screens beside him on Main Stage East, highlighting an abundance of fan-made signs reading “I love you Steve” dotted across the front rows. The consensus in the field is clear: Lacy has seduced Reading Festival.
Throughout an hour-long sunset slot, the Compton-born artist’s charisma comes at us from all angles. He dons braids and oversized blue eyewear. As per his latest album, the rapturously received ‘Gemini Rights’, he is a student of Prince’s wild, sweet falsettos and slinky guitar work, but also ‘00s-era indie, as evidenced by a wickedly scratchy ‘Static’. His distinct rise, too, has been remarkable: he began recording his early demos via his iPhone’s built-in microphone, and uploaded them to SoundCloud, before going on to perform with The Internet, and produce for Solange, Kendrick Lamar and Kali Uchis, among others. A precise and sublime performance this evening (August 27), however, suggests Lacy may be entering his imperial phase.
The shrieks are loudest when he deploys a wail midway through ‘N Side’, the breakout hit from Lacy’s 2019 debut ‘Apollo XXI’. Both the bossa nova-influenced ‘Buttons’, and ‘Mercury’, with its flamenco-inspired guitars, initiate games of call and response. Lacy is the kind of a who can undercut his star power with good humour – there are times where he gurns and hops about like someone playing a guitarist in a pantomime – but he also make for a thoughtful figure who can meld rock, R&B and funk to make a record as ambitious as ‘Gemini Rights’. His speaking voice, too, is giddy and delighted, and quite at odds with his lyrics of sexuality, and love as addiction.
This is music increasingly designed for big festival stages like this one, particularly the exuberant pulse of Fousheé team-up ‘Sunshine’. But when she fails to appear for her verse, despite performing elsewhere on-site earlier in the day, the track’s repeated refrain of “I’m always gonna be / Where you are,” feels, somewhat amusingly, redundant. Leave it to Lacy’s excellent, roaring live band to distract from any awkwardness.
The hazy and gorgeously psychedelic ‘Bad Habit’ – which, after a sensational TikTok craze, dethroned Harry Styles’ ‘As It Was’ from a 15 week-long run at top of the charts in the US last year – needs no introduction. Instead, Lacy offers a tightly-executed heel spin as the melody kicks in, quashing any resistance to his starry charm offensive.
Steve Lacy played:
‘Lay Me Down’