Steve Lacy creates a playground at The Fillmore

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Steve Lacy was an image in peach as he strutted onto the stage at The Fillmore on Friday night in a denim suit and shiny Gucci oxfords. Walking out to the intro beats of “Only If,” the first song off his debut album Apollo XXI, Lacy smiled the slightest of smiles as he surveyed the crowd — a beautiful amalgamation of 90s-esque dressed teens and canvas jacket-clad millennials. The venue was perfectly highlighted by clouds of smoke occasionally drifting up to a large illuminating disco ball. The stage was set for a night full of colorful energy, as orange amps reading “Apollo” were a backdrop for Lacy and his DJ/sound mixer, Alima Lee.

The entire night, Lacy seemed to refuse to stand up straight, as he was constantly leaning back and grooving to his tracks. Especially during slower tracks with more cyclical beats, Lacy’s entire body was taken over by the rhythms. Aside from some newer mixing, Lacy himself reworked some of his songs purely using feedback. Using either of his two guitars — either a silver glitter or sleek mahogany-toned Fender — Lacy warped pitches up and down, at times the intentional feedback so loud it felt physically piercing. The immense power Lacy had over the crowd was stimulating, evident of his recent rise in widespread cultural popularity.

Midway through the set, the stage turned dark as a recording of “Amandla’s Interlude” began to play, the track beginning with audio of Lacy and actress and activist Amandla Stenberg chatting about a song they collaborated on. Then, light guitar finger-picking began to wash over the crowd, interlaced with the light laughter of Lacy and Stenberg. Long, drawn-out violin notes joined the guitar, and together the serene sounds lulled the crowd into one unified community.

This broke up the show into two sections, each in stark contrast to the interlude. As the track gently faded out, the beats of “N Side” began to play and Lacy came out in a new outfit, a head-to-toe tartan Uniqlo ensemble. With his Gucci oxfords still on, Lacy upped the ante with higher energy tracks and by jumping around the stage — which was quite impressive after almost an hour of playing.

The most hype-riddled song of the night was “Outro Freestyle/4ever” a song composed of Lacy’s ventures into rap wedded with a spiritual, gospel-like layering of harmonies and pure praise. Lacy got the entire crowd to jump around — so much so that the floor shook. He then played a brand new song in a similar style, hinting at what was to come on his next project.

Sultry and sassy throughout the night, Lacy could at one moment be standing hand-on-hip and smirking at the audience, then breaking down his at times overly confident exterior the next, showing raw emotion by clutching the mic and letting out the softest vibrato-coated croon ever to grace the walls of the venue.

Lacy’s falsetto was something else entirely. The pitch and range contained in Lacy’s singular voice was Prince-like in tone, but with the smoother style of modern R&B singers. These high notes, which in many cases would take auto-tuning to achieve, were purely constructed by Lacy’s natural voice. At times Lacy reached the top of a jaw-dropping range, only to then go further and sing higher. All the while he maintained a simply angelic tone.

At one point in the night, Lacy got choked up in response to the crowd’s continuing cheers after a track, having to turn away from the mic and embrace Lee in a tearful hug. Claiming that this was the first crowd to make him cry, Lacy showed that the bedroom musician who started recording tracks on an iPhone was still an integral part of him, regardless of his newfound fame and swanky designer clothes.

Lacy’s vulnerability exploded in his track “Like Me” as the lyrics explore ambiguous identity and fluid sexuality. Lyrics like “I only feel energy, I see no gender,” and “Ain’t got a preference, a wifey or a boyfriend / Or something in-between, we don’t need no categories” speak to Lacy’s own sentiments that are worked into the track. Repeated chorus lines where Lacy wonders if there are other people out there like himself, who face the same internal conflict, cover the whole song in the issue self-acceptance.

After having played the entirety of Apollo XXI, Lacy capitulated to the crowd’s energy and came back out with “Ryd,” an acoustic version of “C U Girl” and “Dark Red,” the main tracks off his first produced demo that contributed to his rise as an underground soloist. As expected, The Fillmore came even more alive, screaming the words at Lacy and mirroring his dance moves as he ran around the stage.

The performance as a whole was extremely diverse, with many rapidly changing emotions set to sensual funk-driven beats that caused the crowd to melt at Lacy’s feet. It was special to see Lacy break down his stage persona while at the same time maintaining his suave style, both sides of Lacy were evidence of his increasing multiplicity as an artist as he continues to rise.

Highlights of the set: “Outro freestyle/4ever,” “Guide,”  “Dark Red.”

Contact Francesca Hodges at [email protected].