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Estère - Gig Review: Estère @ Meow, Wellington - 01/04/2023

03 Apr 2023 // A review by Danica Bryant

It’s tough to get Wellingtonians out of their house lately, given the region’s recent brutal cold spell. Yet it speaks to Estère’s power that music lovers came out in vast numbers to see the local legend take the stage at Meow on this busy Saturday night. She's touring her lockdown EP Makara Peak, a "beat-pop" collection blending self-produced electronica with catchy melodies and expansive lyricism.

Opening the show is Poneke icon PollyHill, a DJ and rapper who captures the crowd from her very first song. She has a great stage presence, with plenty of charisma and confidence, speaking to a crowd of hundreds as if they’re merely a large group of close friends. Thanks to Alexa Casino's musical assistance, PollyHill fills her set with rushing electronic beats. Her tight flow and lyrical clarity are incredibly impressive. Every line is perfectly audible, highlighting her comedic timing and rhythmic ability. She is such a talented rapper, you’d never know she’s interspersing rehearsed verses with freestyles until she declares to the crowd with a hand on her heart, “that was 100% off the top of the head”. The standout track initially seems to be the fiery Michael, which disses an archetypal man’s predictable personality. But the closing number Pulse also gets the whole room dancing with its skittering jungle house beats. The crowd is so in awe of Polly, when she casually mentions her recent birthday, they collectively sing "happy birthday" in response, a moment of connection that reflects just how impressive her command over the room really is.

Then for the main event. Estère takes to the stage in the pitch-black, then lighting up in an unnervingly statuesque pose surrounded by her two dancers. Their choreography is at once both unsettling and impressive, strikingly rehearsed and full of flowing movement that combines the sultry with the strange. Throughout the set, these dancers vanish then reappear. They leave Estère alone for a bouncy rendition of I Spy led by her slick electric guitar riffs, then return for the high chemistry number Animal Pleasure, a clear crowd favourite controlled by her breathy, percussive vocals. In these first few songs, what's most notable about the dancing set-up is how perfectly they work as a trio. Estère consistently gives her co-stars space to revel in the attention themselves. She moves behind them into tight corners of the room, never taking her eye off the audience or missing a vocal beat, but celebrating their dancing talent on their own merits frequently. Collectively, the group work the stage as if it's an arena as wide as the World of Wearable Arts venues Estère has recently moved on from, following her star turn with them last year. 

Whenever the dancers leave the stage, Estère adopts new tricks to maintain interest. For her ode to "millennial anxiety" Oh Well, she dramatically strikes melodies on an electronic pad with a drumstick. Elsewhere, she pulls out hand shakers and creates makeshift instruments out of bracelets for performances like Under Water Whale Knowledge. It's a stadium worthy spectacle, full of gimmicks that never feel gimmicky.

Her natural performance ability stands out on the radio ready Melt, a sexy, silky lyrical track blending contemporary R&B melodies with electronica and funk. Here, Estère is fearless, moving from seductive whispers to all-out screams. She takes off her blazer to reveal a silver two-piece outfit, perfectly fit for an inventive pop star of her calibre. At this point, however, she has made a habit of pointing out the dancers' presence, then their absence, on rotation. This narration does unfortunately make the production feel a little less seamless. She makes up for it with other topics of discussion, such as offering brief insights into song topics, creative background trivia, and nods to audience members who have inspired what she lovingly calls her "beats".

Nearing the end of the set, Estère falls fully into her groove on experimental bop Flashlight, proving how powerful she can be dancing completely by herself. A brief interlude of choreography set on the ground in a primarily standing venue is a troublesome choice, as most people can't see it, but she quickly gets back up to storm the stage for everybody once again. For the initial closing number Conversation with Daddy, she spits tight rhymes about the search for money and fame, weaving in witchlike, dreamy dance moves and hauntingly emotive facial expressions. The titular conversation is with "my actual dad on my phone," she quips, "despite what you may have thought".

The crowd hollers for an encore, to which Estère returns to play the unreleased Diaspora Baby. It's an eclectic banger, the most club-ready song of the set. Bombastic and bright, it also offers her only true rap verse, showing off her lyrical and rhythmic prowess, clear pronunciation and spectacular breath control. Although Estère is frequently breathless when speaking in between songs, she is an absolute professional in that you'd never know it when the music begins.

Despite playing a relatively brief headlining set, clocking in at only forty minutes, the production value of the Makara Peak tour is so high, you couldn't possibly feel short-charged. Estère and her team put on a show of  incomparable quality. All of her adoring fans in attendance certainly left fired up by every exciting number, having been served an apt reminder that there is truly nobody in the Aotearoa music scene quite like Estère.


Photo Credit: Maeve O'Connell
Estère Photo Gallery

 

About Estère

Estere doesn’t play music - she creates sonic amalgamations that merge culture, language and legend. She breathes life into narratives that marry the acutely human to the achingly mythic. Her vocals soar and then swoon, beckoning sultrily and opening gates to new interpretations of age-old tales. Estere plays 'electric blue witch-hop', as she calls her dimensions of electronic, folk and R&B. The New Zealand Herald calls it "a beautiful mix of everything the music world is lauding and lusting after right now."

She began her journey as a bedroom producer with an MPC called Lola. Her first album, Estere, released in 2015 via Paris-based record label Prospect, earned her accolades from prominent media outlets such as Elle Magazine (FR) and Portals. In 2018, Estere’s second album My Design, On Others' Lives was championed by Radio NZ as "an exceptional record." Afropunk called it "an immersive experience unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed."

Estere has brought her unique live show - she plays guitar, keyboards, drums - to Europe, Africa and Asia, including slots opening for Grace Jones and Erykah Badu. Estere’s on stage talent and energy has earned her invitations to international festivals including Glastonbury (UK), Afropunk Paris (FR), and Bushfire Festival (Swaziland). She has also headlined sold-out shows in the UK, France and New Zealand.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Estère

Releases

Makara Peak
Year: 2022
Type: EP
Archetypes
Year: 2021
Type: Album
My Design, On Other's Lives
Year: 2018
Type: Album
My Design, Part 1
Year: 2017
Type: Album
New Species
Year: 2015
Type: EP
Estère
Year: 2014
Type: Album

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