Steve Lacy review – Bad Habit showman balances virtuoso guitar playing and irreverent gags

<span>Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

Though long celebrated for his work in indie-R&B group the Internet and with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and GoldLink, Steve Lacy went stratospheric this year after TikTok sent Bad Habit, a single from his second album Gemini Rights, to No 1 in the US and No 8 in the UK. The attention has brought his excellent mix of funk, R&B and slacker rock to a whole set of new ears. Case in point: armies of bright-eyed teens descending on London’s Roundhouse on a Monday night, braving a freak bout of snow to see the Los Angeles-based guitarist, songwriter and producer perform Gemini Rights’ surly tales of heartbreak and heady sex at the second of two sold-out London shows.

Their phones are at the ready before Lacy even hits the stage – a given, considering his core demographic. When he does appear, it is clear that they’re right to have been eager: Lacy is an arresting presence and madly handsome under ever-changing mood lighting. He shows off a tongue-in cheek sense of humour, quipping about messing up his own lyrics, about his fans and his previous shows: “This is one of the craziest tours this year – we laughed, we cried, we smashed cameras,” he says, cheekily referring to an onstage bout of frustration in New Orleans.

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Static and Lay Me Down, the latter song taken from Lacy’s debut album Apollo XXI, prove clear highlights: beneath blue lighting, Lacy turns the latter into a lengthy epic, twisting pedals to stretch his notes into frenzied drones. Lacy less plays his guitars, of which there are many, than caresses them; his movement and command of the stage, at times, evoke the late Prince, and the heightened atmosphere he produces seems to prove as entertaining to Lacy as his audience.

But even with such high expectations, Lacy never takes himself too seriously. He closes with crowd favourites Bad Habit and Dark Red, and the hordes of teens sing along with gusto. He is as irreverent as he is talented; throughout the show, he switches out his pairs of Bottega Veneta ski goggles in order to fit the mood of particular songs; they make him resemble a cartoon character, a recurring visual gag that elicits laughs from the audience. Sometimes, he walks across the stage wailing and freestyling notes long after songs have ended.

“How does it feel to see me in real life, is that weird,” he asks. And then: “Do I look better, or uglier in person. Better?” The delivery is only half deadpan: Lacy is leaning into his dual personas as sensual frontman and jocular meme lord, and loving both. Someone in his position might be eager to correct misguided notions that he’s just a social media success story. He rightfully doesn’t seem to care – he’s too busy enjoying himself.