There was a time where the musical establishment had passed judgement on The 1975 as an act that they just could not understand why they existed, let alone imagine them being even remotely successful. Flash forward a few years, and the naysayers have all been proven to be seriously misguided. The 1975 have just released their third album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships to widespread critical acclaim, and have embarked on a largely sold-out arena tour across the UK, including two nights at London’s The O2 Arena. Driven by the charisma of Matty Healy; the tight musicianship of George Daniel, Adam Hann and Ross McDaniel and the creative scope of Jamie Oborne and his label Dirty Hit - The 1975 have set out to connect with a disillusioned millennial demographic and innovate their hooky pop sound to great success with this latest live run.
Opening up the shows on this tour were two other prominent Dirty Hit signees, in No Rome and Pale Waves. A more cynical journalist could comment that in effect concert goers were watching two diluted versions of the headliner, however in fairness both artists expanded upon their own sugary synthpop offerings in this context. Pale Waves in particular won over the crowd very quickly with their so-catchy-it-hurts indie pop tunes, the floor nearly packed out for their criminally short support slot.
Preluding The 1975’s entry to the stage was a rather ingenious method of ramping up the anticipation within The O2. Over the course of ten minutes a tranquil piano loop - which fans may have recognised as Love Theme from ABIIOR - grew louder and louder, before finally giving way to the third iteration of their self-titled album opener, as Matty Healy and company took their place in the spotlight of their gargantuan set up.
Much of the anticipation behind this tour has been all about the highly touted production set up employed by The 1975 and their creative team. It did not disappoint - the array of visuals shifted in mind bending ways throughout the nearly two hour long set, as references to the ‘Music For Cars’ era filled the hive mind like one slick marketing ad. All the themes of relationships, technology and social media that ABIIOR dealt with were similarly explored within the expansive stage show - to cue The Ballad of Me And My Brain was Healy disappearing behind the drum riser, only to be raised into a projected iPhone on the main screen. There’s some sort of delicious irony in this being a moment filmed by several thousand people on their own smartphones.
The visuals also aided many of the new songs in that respect, emphasizing the deeper social context to much of The 1975’s recent songwriting that a casual listener may miss. Case in point was the trap beat-infused I Like America & America Likes Me, the screens emblazoned with anti-violence themes to complement the charged lyricism. It’ll be interesting how this segment is received when the tour travels stateside, but it was an intensely thought-provoking addition without seeming preachy or over pretentious.
Despite having headlined this exact stage two years previous at the conclusion of their last UK headline tour, Healy did look overwrought by it all on occasion - emotionally dedicating Loving Someone to all of the fans present whilst becoming visibly overcome during set closer I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes). The emotions were mostly reciprocated by The 1975’s predominantly young fanbase, who took every word from the frontman’s microphone by heart.
The setlist explored all aspects of The 1975’s three full length albums to date and their assortment of EPs from early in their career - given that each album has featured at least fifteen songs, it is not as if they haven’t got enough material to work with. The sheer variety on display was therefore astonishing. At times it was difficult to believe the same band were on stage: angsty first album ballad Robbers followed up the frenzied electronica of How To Draw/Petrichor, before the sparse soundscapes of early EP track fallingforyou took over to completely hush the room. Support act No Rome also joined the band onstage mid set to perform his seductive pop jam Narcissist, introduced by Healy as ‘The UK’s next big pop star". Maybe it’s a bold claim, but it was fun to see the two acts on stage together.
The 1975’s digital-saddled millenial pop is something that has its fans and its critics alike, however even the most cynical attitudes towards them die quick deaths when in the presence of this completely mind-bending live experience. Given the diverse mix The 1975 have genre-wise in their discography, there is someone for everyone in their live show. And it’s only going to get more stratospheric, as the band headline Reading & Leeds Festivals in August and release even more music with the upcoming album Notes on a Conditional Form.