Steve Lacy stalks across the Roundhouse stage clad in black leather trousers, chains and a graffitied white shirt, looking like a man who’s got missing on his way to the Berghain queue. He comes to a standstill and extends his arms outwards, as if preaching to the phone-wielding congregation before him. “I just want to acknowledge everyone’s existence in this room,” he says. “I see you all.” Yet between the Compton artist’s bold outfit and trance-like aura is a easy message: Lacy is showing us who he truly is.
Playfully imperious, unpredictable and knowing at the same time, Lacy is among modern R&B’s most revered names. After the multiple Grammy nominations and critical rapture which greeted The Internet guitarist’s second solo album, July’s ‘Gemini Rights’, tonight’s sold-out show – one of two dates at London’s Roundhouse, and the only UK stop on his Give You The World Tour – should be a victory lap. Well, sort of: this gig is instead a well-deserved triumph for an artist who has had some difficulty on the road as of late. A stampede delayed a show in Melbourne last month, while in New Orleans he was hit in the face by a fan’s disposable camera mid-performance, prompting him to smash the device and walk off stage.
But Lacy turns out to have equally vast reserves of patience and staying power. The songs he plays tonight often slowly unfurl into extended jams: following a fan request, ‘That’s No Fun’ becomes an a capella mantra which both artist and audience keep going, while the raw and hurting ‘Helmet’ is played twice over, with scatted ad-libs and vocal runs. Sexual self-belief is the bedrock of ‘Infrunami’, which is reshaped into a melody that’s charged with heated possibilities via its lapping, smouldering rhythms and added bass effects. As its last chorus drifts along, the air thickens with both simmering tension and the fruity tang of vape smoke; every inch of the venue is taken up by a heaving body, the majority wearing padded coats to combat London’s first snowfall of the winter outside.
Part of Lacy’s wide appeal is his laidback approach: when a wall of screams greets his sleeper hit ‘N Side’, he laughs and briefly forms a heart sign in appreciation. His stage set-up also reflects that nature in its simplicity: while there are a handful of Tron Legacy-style visuals, the show largely runs on the shared feeling that he and his backing band are a gang of pals celebrating Lacy’s current mainstream tenure.
The songs continue to be elevated by this human connection: the crowd serenades Lacy with the chorus of ‘Amber’, and later attempts to imitate the tantalising falsettos that wrap up ‘Bad Habit’ – Lacy’s first-ever global hit, which topped the US charts for three weeks back in the summer. As the singalong becomes all-encompassing, the persona finally begins to melt away, replaced by a glint in Lacy’s eye that’s just about visible under his Y2K-style sunglasses.
Steve Lacy played:
‘Lay Me Down’
‘Give You the World’
‘Sunshine’ (with Fousheé)
‘That’s No Fun’