Live music, eh? It’s brilliant, but sometimes not as brilliant as it could be. Often visceral, there’s always the occasional work-a-day band of box tickers, happy to just play the songs and get out of Dodge before the lights come up. It’s especially true when the lesser-spotted ‘bunch of indie boys’ manage to drag themselves up to major arena status. A bit more smoke, a louder sound system, an oversized banner for a backdrop – that’ll do, right?The 1975 are not that band. Not even close.There are probably hard facts and figures that would disprove the notion that they’re de facto the biggest band on the planet right now, but there are few that could discount the assertion they might be the most important to the greatest number of engaged, enthusiastic fans. From before the doors open, The O2 is buzzing. Queues surge as security tries to get 20,000 wide-eyed devotees into the capital’s premier enormodome all at once. Half empty plastic bottles and discarded blankets lie piled at the barriers – that determination to make it in, usually reserved for the front few rows, is transmitted to the whole audience before even getting inside the venue.
That’s The 1975’s base level – borderline euphoria. It’s still two hours before they’ll even hit the stage, and the anticipation is palpable. It’s an atmosphere that doesn’t only envelop the headline act. Collaborator and current muse No Rome might well be giving one of his first major live performances on one of the biggest stages in the country, but he’s far from an unknown. Dirty Hit increasingly feels more like a family than a record label, and it’s that kind of loving embrace that greets a short but sweet set that marks out a definite Future Pop Star.Pale Waves, on the other hand, remain a phenomenon all of their own. Turns out, big, dark sheds suit them perfectly. Pulsing with red and white lights and an over-order of dry ice, they cut effortless shapes so sharp they should require help from a grown-up. Like the house band at the biggest school prom on the planet, the highlights of last year’s debut ‘My Mind Makes Noises’ grow ever more strident and confident with every outing, their intrinsic wide-eyed naivety more a superpower than a barrier to overcome. By the time their breakout ‘There’s A Honey’ fades, you’d be forgiven for asking if there was any chance of a bit more.
Even an exceptional support showing doesn’t prepare for what follows. The 1975 have never been slouches when it comes to big moments. On their last album, 2016’s ‘I like it when you sleep…’, the staging was far from an afterthought. Compared to tonight’s fireworks, it feels positively minimalistic. From the moment the repeating, piano-led ‘Love Theme’ that first echoed the arrival of their Music For Cars era cuts, this is showmanship on the grandest scale. The latest instalment of pseudo-title-track ‘The 1975’ blasts large onto a gigantic, several story high set of screens, every lyric delivered in massive, bold white type. They’re not even on stage yet, and every hair in The O2 is stood to attention.
What follows is nothing short of a masterclass. The scrappy guitar of ‘Give Yourself A Try’ and the pop bop of ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ become a gloriously messy release – a screaming, shouted back cacophony of noise transformed into an all-out dance party with one gloopy synth-led power up and more than a splash of brightly coloured light. Each track sees the stage around them reconfigure – their iconic box twisting and shifting while three multi-sided cube-like super screens dip up and down. A changing set is nothing new in the pop arena, but this is beyond even the greatest bubblegum dreamer’s wildest imagination.‘Love Me’ is every bit the bratty but brilliant banger, while an onstage treadmill makes a showing for a recreation of the video for ‘Sincerity Is Scary’, backpack, rabbit hat and all. ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ keeps the visual link up in place, as the multicoloured blocks from ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships” cover art dance around like a giant game of Snake. Six songs in, and The 1975 are already punching for the championship belt.
It’s not just a set of greatest hits, though. The idiosyncrasies that run through The 1975 remain – from the rainbow glow of ‘Loving Someone’ into ‘The Ballad of Me and My Brain’, to the jittering, positively transcendent ‘How to Draw / Petrichor’, there’s as much movement in their musical styling as there is from the stage around them. And that includes the point where Matty Healy ascends then appears to physically step into the screen behind him, leaning against the frame of a giant iPhone – a genuine moment that goes far beyond the usual pyros and confetti cannons.
If the front half of the set is the ascent, then the second half is nothing short of a full release. A triumphant ‘Robbers’, a sea of phones for ‘fallingforyou’ and a sweaty ‘UGH!’ push all the buttons, while ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’ lends credence to the theory that ‘ABIIOR’ is a jukebox of arena-sized moments. ‘Somebody Else’ still sounds like a timeless classic, while ‘Girls’ will always have that sugar-spun taste of a band bashing down the door. It’s current album closer ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’ that gets to draw a curtain on the main set, though – its anthem status assured as tears stream down Healy’s face. He’s not the only one, either.We’re not done yet, though. While saving big moments for the encore is hardly unique, The 1975 have an arsenal stacked like few others. Returning to the rallying call of ‘Love It If We Made It’, the sound is both deafening and defiant. Though Healy may paint it as a track that draws no conclusions, when backed with shots from its accompanying video it remains one of the most affecting musical moments of recent memory. Placed alongside two of the band’s earliest hits, ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Sex’, and the post-ironic messages of ‘The Sound’, and it’s nothing short of a four-song mic drop.In terms of sheer spectacle, it’s without comparison, but The 1975’s live performance is much more than a couple of motorised screens and some blue sky thinking. A band that thrives off its relatability, it’s the connection with their audience that makes the difference – a two-way transaction of raw energy, each feeding off the other. Every moment saturated to the maximum possible hue, and only halfway through a blockbuster album one-two that’s already changing the way their peers think about what it means to be a band in 2019, it’s a show that defies all expectations, but one: The 1975 are heading straight for the hall of fame.Live music, eh? Sometimes it’s positively spectacular.
Words: Stephen Ackroyd