Every band has a story. Each artist to top the bill at the legendary Reading Festival has been on a journey to reach this point. Every British act that’s found their name at the zenith of that poster will have taken a moment. And yet, for tonight’s headliners The 1975, it feels ever so slightly different.
That’s the key word when it comes to The 1975. Different. While so many of their peers would strive to hit some career goal, for them, it’s more of a calling. Of course, they’ve always been heading here, but there’s something at their core that still makes the prospect daring.
Maybe it’s the juxtaposition that sits at the very heart of their band. More than almost any other, every aspect of their world seems perfectly pitched. Reading hasn’t seen a more impressively staged show than this – there’s no need for lazy fire and brimstone when you look this good – yet none of it feels safe or overly pre-prepared. It’s innate; born of instinct, not focus-grouped to follow a trend. Frontman Matty Healy is never less than compelling, a mix of emotions and raw honesty, which never feels truly safe in the best possible way. They’re two things that should rarely be found in the same place, and yet with The 1975, it’s a contrast that sets them apart.
From the opening stabs of the ‘A Brief Inquiry…’ version of their self-titled theme, there’s a tangible electricity in the air. A spark that sets light as they launch headfirst into new track ‘People’. Debuted only a day before, it’s daring, confrontational and ever so slightly mad, but perfect for Reading Festival. It’s easy to forget where The 1975 came from – a band of scrappy pop-punk covers that evolved into something altogether different, but with the same addictive personality at their core.
From there on out, it’s back to back proof that no band feels quite as in the moment right now as The 1975. Visibly taken back by how “mental” the position find themselves in is, theirs is a repertoire built for this moment. ‘Give Yourself A Try’ still feels like a raw adrenaline shot, while ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ is a top pop bop perfect for Reading’s 2019 vintage. ‘Sincerity Is Scary’, ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’, ‘Love Me’ – the first part of tonight’s set is rammed with crowd-pleasers. In terms of their suitability for the job, there’s nothing left to prove.
Gears shifted, the moments start to clock up. ‘Loving Someone’ feels especially timely when placed alongside Matty’s preceding thoughts. “I kissed a boy in Dubai the other week,” he offers. “To be honest, it was a beautiful moment. When you see that, as a human, your natural inclination is to think, ‘that’s nice’ but sometimes, to simplify it, governments are dickheads and they get involved in those sort of things when really, they should leave you and your lovely genitals alone to do with what you want. I really liked that boy, and I’m pretty sure he liked that kiss, so it’s not me that needs to change. It’s the world that needs to change.” It’s followed by a perfectly delivered ‘A Change Of Heart’, still one of the band’s standout tracks. There are old favourites – ‘Girls’ makes a rapturous appearance – while ‘Somebody Else’ remains one of British pop music’s greatest recent triumphs. A main set ended with ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ would still deliver all the goods, but there are still big guns to be fired.
Kicking off their encore with their recent Greta Thunberg backed statement doesn’t actually feel brave. That would be the wrong word. It’s urgent, important, almost impossible to deny. With the words projected big and bold, the intent is clear, the platform deliberate. Less a pause, more a demand for change, it’s followed by another powerful message. It’s a testament to The 1975 that ‘Love It If We Made It’ already feels like a document of a point in history, but its energy remains undimmed. A fist in the air, a challenge to everything around it, it’s the opening gambit to a run of bangers big enough to bring Reading to its knees. ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Sex’ remain two tracks that prove The 1975 had it right all along, but it’s closer ‘The Sound’ that truly feels like the knock out blow. As mayhem descends, it’s proof that this is a band who can find the unifying moments in both the outward and the inward.
Reading Festival has seen headliners come and go – and many of them come back again – but this is much more than that. This isn’t just some achievement ticked off a list. This band are about connections. Even in a field as big as the one they’re playing tonight, there’s still the air of something magical. While many bands are as much about the worlds created around them by their fans, they’re a group that feel actively present in those spaces. In some ways, it’s not just four lads headlining Reading tonight; it’s all of us. A shared experience that’s also deeply personal, The 1975 genuinely matter.
Words: Stephen Ackroyd