With so much fantastic new music being made all the more accessible through streaming services, online radio and social media platforms, it’s always an absolute pleasure to discover an act that impresses on first listen or first watch. And so it was when I caught Newcastle-native Lizzie Esau open for Somebody’s Child at London’s Lafayette just last month. Not only did she bring the rockstar stylings and warmth to charm a potentially disinterested crowd, but she delivered the songs to match. It didn’t hurt that the trio of musicians that form her band excel at their game as well. Esau brought her A-game, leaping off the relatively high Lafayette stage to sing from the crowd that night, and had the audience clapping and singing along throughout. And so when there was mention of a headline tour with a London stop, I made sure to be present.
Tonight, I get to chat and hang out a little with Esau and her band, along with the ridiculously awesome Wynona, whose set Esau insists I must catch. We bond over our joint love of sci-fi and fantasy movies (hers in The Two Towers and mine Back To The Future), orchestral music and Lizzie’s immense pre-show playlist that’s blaring from a speaking in the corner of the dressing room, that includes hits from Fat Boy Slim and Wolf Alice, and blistering Queens of the Stone Age tune Go With The Flow.
She’s a massive Ellie Rowsell fangirl but has never caught Wolf Alice live and I insist that she must, having enjoyed some of my favourite live music moments in recent years in their company, with Joff Oddie, Theo Ellis, Joel Amey and frontwoman Ellie Rowsell taking over stages from Rough Trade East’s tiny in-store riser to Glastonbury Festival’s monster Pyramid, and with each band member exuding their individual rockstar personalities.
Esau tells me how she and her band enjoyed this past summer’s festival circuit, from Tramlines and Truck to Y-Not and Boardmasters, the latter a true family affair with everyone coming down to enjoy not just her set but the whole festival, and how she’s making sure to enjoy every moment of her journey as you never know what will happen the following year. This is a fickle business after all. And then it’s showtime.
Esau and her band walk out onto the small Grace stage to the driving beat and repetitive mantra of Fatboy Slim hit Right Here, Right Now. But it is the opening bars of storming tune Wait Too Late that has the crowd bouncing. “We’re gonna have a good time tonight!” she insists before requesting her audience dance to bounce-along Deepest Blue EP tune Killer, the London crowd all smiles and eager to move some more. “My emptiness eats up the morning” they chant along before Shaun “Chippy” Chipp’s screaming guitar takes over.
2022 hook-laden pop-rock anthem The Enemy is next, Esau’s spoken-word breaks reminiscent of her favourite Wolf Alice. “I want you to scream” she requests of her audience before introducing delicious Deepest Blue cut Roadkill as a song “about all the horrible people in the world we don’t like”, Joe Bennison’s sparse bass reminiscent of Nirvana classic Come As You Are.
“I’m sweating up here, I don’t want to be the only one!” she offers to chuckles from the crowd before the group dive into Crush, its slow-drive verses punctuated by rousing choruses. An acoustic guitar is brought out next for new song and “sad one” Always, Esau’s delicate vocals complimenting the softer stylings and contrasting the rest of tonight’s set beautifully, the ceiling of mirrorballs at The Grace providing added magic.
More new material is aired by way of fizzing Impossible And Strange, a tune we’re teased with potentially getting our hands on in the new year. But it is last year’s anthemic Jellyfish that receives the biggest cheer of the night so far, Chippy’s repeating guitar riff striking atop Esau’s spoken-word verses before the tune collapses into its honey-slick chorus.
Vibrant Deepest Blue EP opener Lazy Brain has the crowd singing along once more, Robb Maynard’s staccato drums collapsing into technicolour encouraging the crowd’s nods to become progressively more aggressive before the the gentle groove of one of Lizzie Esau’s signature songs Bleak Sublime sees the frontwoman stepping off the stage to sing from the crowd, beneath that glorious mirror ball-adorned ceiling.
Fast guitar work followed by storming beats kick off main set closer Cool, the funk-laden tune leaning on the 24-year-old’s spoken-style singing across its verses. Chants of “one more song” from the crowd encourage the group back on stage for an unscripted encore. “I love dancing around to this one, so dance with me” Esau requests before the night if closed out with depression-tackling What If I Just Kept Driving, her soulful vocals across the song showcasing yet more of her range.
While tonight’s set might be over, the crowd are exuberant. It’s been a night to remember and the first of hopefully many anthem-filled nights in increasingly larger rooms for Lizzie Esau. Personally, I can’t wait to hear more from her songbook.
Words and photography of Lizzie Esau @ The Grace, London by Kalpesh Patel on 9th November 2023.