Announcing their tour for early 2016, The 1975 frontman Matty Healy claimed “only the most dedicated [fans] will get a ticket”. After seeing their sold-out show on Thursday night, I agree with him – there was a line stretching long into the street hours before the gig started, with some people arriving at 6am to get a glimpse of the great man himself. As for the concert itself, I could barely hear Healy’s singing itself over the screams of the pulsating crowd. He took his shirt off at about the 20 minute mark and as a result, I’m pretty sure my eardrums are irreparably damaged.
The evening began with The Japanese House, centred around singer Amber Bain, whose star has been on the rise ever since it was announced that members of The 1975 would be producing her debut release. Plenty of people seem to have come just for The Japanese House, as the short set of songs from her EP and upcoming debut album drew rapturous applause. We can expect big things from Bain – her songs are atmospheric and simple, with canny instrumentation.
The decibel level of screaming reached its peak about half an hour later, as the mercurial Matty Healy and his bandmates took to the stage. I was among the roughly 30 people that watched The 1975 on stage at the Big Day Out in 2014, and just over two years later, the rise of the Manchester group has been astronomic. The band has managed to tap into the most lucrative and least respected demographic in music – teenage girls. The 1975 gets a lot of its hate based on its fanbase, but this anger ignores both the fact that no band chooses its audience, and also obscures the reality that these young women have good taste – Healy’s songs are catchy, funny, poignant and everything in between, and they are very real snapshots of what life is like for young people in the internet age.
The show started with the make-up adorned Healy leading a raucous sing-along to “Love Me,” the first single from the forthcoming album I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it. The song sounds like what would happen if Bowie, Prince and Peter Gabriel were thrown together in the Large Hadron Collider. What followed was basically a tour of The 1975’s debut album, with almost every song from the record getting a spin.
The band was tight, with every member playing his part, particularly drummer George Daniel, who is the musical anchor of the group. However, the star of the show was clearly Healy himself: he seemed to be painfully shy in 2014, but since then he has morphed into a true pop star, owning the stage with his preening and dancing. By the end of the concert, he was dripping with sweat, make up smeared all over his face.
Healy also proved himself to be a great raconteur. His stage patter was charming, and his request for everyone to experience the fact that we were “all here at the same time” without trying to record the moment for posterity resulted in something I have never seen: during the haunting ballad “Me,” not a single person touched their electronic recording devices. Most people kept them in their pockets for the rest of the show, and the result was a genuinely communal experience (as Healy remarked, “you got a ticket, so fuck anyone else”).
As I said, the crowd truly was made up of die-hard fans: everyone was singing along to every word, even to songs that haven’t even seen an official release yet. The show reached its peak with the encore performance of the group’s most conventional rock song, “Sex”, before the light show (inspired by the contemporary artists Robert Irwin and James Turrell) dissolved into static and the band shuffled off stage, the hot weather clearly having taken it out of them.
During the show, Healy claimed that this was a concert for the true fans before the band becomes bigger than they already are. I left the show, ears ringing, having totally accepted this point of view. The 1975 are a band that writes catchy yet deceptively strange tunes that draw from an amazingly wide variety of influences, and that can appeal to a wide variety of audiences. I do feel that soon their fame will reach stratospheric levels, and anyone who was at the gig on Thursday will be able to say that they saw them at a truly intimate venue before they started playing stadiums.