Almost 20 years ago to the day, happy-pop five-piece Steps crashed into the UK singles chart for the first time, kickstarting a four-year run of near-omnipresence in the public musical consciousness.
Kids flocked to them for their uptempo, shiny singalongs; parents followed in their wake, owing to the band’s aggressive re-appropriation of ABBA’s Scandi-disco aesthetics. It all imploded quite spectacularly around Christmas 2001; now, fuelled by the lucrative power of Nineties nostalgia, they’re back with their second reunion in 16 years, a full-blown, highly-varnish pantomime heavy on the tinny kitsch and screwball cheese, and still wrapped up in the sugar-high exuberance of an after-school disco.
Dropping by Leeds’s First Direct Arena, the group are ostensibly touring behind a new album, Tears on the Dancefloor. Though not without its merits – opener Scared of the Dark swans in on faux-orchestral clubland beats, complete with burgundy velvet-clad dancer monks for hammy, ecclesiastical effect – it is abundantly cleared that this is a show geared towards a gold-glasses-tinted past.
You don’t exactly tap the Vengaboys, of Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!! fame, as support if you’re trying to stake a claim of relevance in the world.
As such, their brazenly admirable pilfering of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’s songbook remains at the forefront of proceedings. Some stick their landings well – Stomp, accompanied by multiple mirrorballs and one eye-catchingly outrageous pair of trousers, leans hard into its Chic-isms with a knowing glee, whilst big ballad It’s the Way You Make Me Feel is retooled with a pretty, acoustic intro played by a cowboy hat-toting chap lounging at the front-of-stage (the only genuine moment of instrumentation on a backing-track-heavy night).
Others, like Happy, feel cluttered in their harmonising and 5,6,7,8, for all its Wild West fringed jacket costumes, lacks the violin hook integral to its four-to-the-floor hoedown to make it click, though 10,000 screaming fans obviously don’t mind too much.
A late glut of copper-bottomed bangers – Love’s Got a Hold on My Heart, One for Sorrow and Tragedy – help finish a mixed bag on a high and go some way to delivering on the promise of “the best party ever”; under a finale of ticker-tape cannons and wedding dresses, their carefree, committee-constructed pop sill surprisingly glows with the warmth of a job well done after all this time.