The SSE Belfast 15th November 2021
Steps have been both revered and reviled in their quarter of a century together. For every person that loves them, there seems to be another willing to deride anything they do. This is something that is true of most pop bands but unlike many other manufactured groups who ride the crest of a commercial wave for a couple of years, pocketed the cash and then split, Steps have remained in it for the long haul. They have never been what you would consider “cool” but their fans don’t care. Mind you, when you were initially formed with the intention of being a line dancing pop group (hence the name) you probably come to terms with the fact that you will never be considered edgy. And since supposedly credible bands like Oasis, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Foreigner have made lists of the worst bands ever I’m sure Steps aren’t that upset over it.
However edgy or not they continue to be hugely successful. This tour is to support their latest album What the Future holds Part 2. Yes, they had so much material that they released a second album. It is their seventh studio album and with 27 hit singles to draw on they have plenty of material for a two-hour pop party which is what their show is. They make no pretence about this. From the moment they emerge swathed in purple capes singing What The Future Holds you know that you are in for a pure unadulterated poptastic party. And the crowd were there for it.
I’ve seen plenty of adoring fans at gigs in my time but Steps fans are in a league of their own singing along and dancing from the very beginning. They know all the bands moves by heart and so mirror what they’re doing on stage, which is quite something to behold.
Giving people what they want, they fly through their hits in an assortment of ever more elaborate costumes. This is interspersed with chat with the crowd. While the audience were thrilled every time they addressed them one moment, in particular, drew enormous cheers as H described his experience growing up as a young gay boy in Wales. Clearly, his message about being true to yourself resonated with many in attendance.
At one point they attempt Madonna’s Vogue but rewrite the spoken section to include well known 90s pop bands and it was really quite something. They also throw in a drum solo in the middle of Chain Reaction. But other than that, they stick to the hits from their earliest offering 5,6,7,8 up to their next single. Their more recent tracks are definitely more sophisticated than their earlier offerings, but they don’t feel the need to apologise for any of their back catalogue even if some people would dismiss it as cheese. Instead, the focus is on everyone having a great time and they achieved that in spades. Everyone in the crowd left with a huge smile on their faces. If further proof were needed of the atmosphere they created as they left the arena Starship’s Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now was playing and the entire audience spontaneously burst into song, singing along to it as they navigated the stairs and corridors to exit the SSE.
Steps may not be to everybody’s taste but they proved the perfect antidote to nearly two years of pandemic misery. Yes, you did have to show your CoVid cert to gain entry and people wore masks but it still felt almost like pre-pandemic times. They really did manage to help everyone forget their troubles for a couple of hours and gave them permission to have fun and party and at its heart that is the essence of pop music. After a quarter of a century, Steps have finally come into their own and look set to be around for many more years to come.