It was the final Friday evening in February as I prepared for a gig that I had been excited about for quite a while. Everything leading up to it had been really rather hectic, but my priorities eventually righted themselves as I headed to Manchester Arena for The 1975’s monumental returning show, which turned out to be a huge night out for many music lovers in Manchester, as much as for the band themselves.
Just walking into the arena it became apparent how extensive their reach is, with one of the most varied audiences across ages, races and backgrounds I have ever seen – a wonderful thing to see and a reminder of how much the band has transformed their image in recent months. This was seen in everything from their guitar-led youthful twists and turns of their debut self-titled album drifting to their synth-pop-daydreams on I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (ILWYS) — there were plenty of changes and experimentations.
The latest additions in 2019’s A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships (ABIIOR) and their yet to be released Notes on a Conditional Form (NOACF), have provided them yet more opportunities for change and adaptation in their sound. The stylisation of their set, however, maintains the symbolic rectangle that has been a central motif since the band’s inception and throughout their different manifestations.
An astonishing support act was found in Beabadoobee and her band, as they opened the night with a blisteringly cool set in terms of sight and sound. The spectacular stage design envisioned and crafted under the watchful eye of Tobias Rylander was barely on show for this set however this did not detract as the minimalism seemed to perfectly compliment their laid back, DIY styling – the layered dust sheets were dappled with bursts of hazy blue lights and billowed slightly seeming to mirror their raggedy, punk rock style. From oversized ripped jumpers, pearls, and piled up costume jewelled stringed necklaces, they possessed an effortlessly cool, vintage-inspired early-nineties image.
This was only the beginning of their performance though, and it soon became clear that sound was the band’s most vital focus. They easily matched the headliner, both in power and performance as they blasted through indie rock tracks “If You Want To” and “Eighteen” with a building, guitar-led energy. Despite Bea’s admittance of fear, playing to a rather large crowd at the arena, she had remarkable ease with her stage space. She came across confidently in tracks such as “She Plays Bass” which gave bassist Eliana the perfect opportunity to show off her skills – not a dull moment to be had!
Another highlight of the set came during “Space Cadet” when they finally appeared to reach some kind of comfortability in the space. Bea flashed a smile towards her bandmates as she struck out a final riff and it was easy to tell that this was a favourite of theirs to play — finishing with a loud crescendo of crashing percussion and roaring guitar sound.
It was interesting to watch the rest of the gig unfold from this point because, once the huge, billowing sheets were removed to reveal Rylander’s impressive architectural design of rectangle shapes and light, there was, initially, very little happening. As people continued to move and talk, the faint sounds of an ABIIOR instrumental slowly began to seep through and echo around the arena. A flickering of lights above the stage silenced the crowd for a second and then the cutting of the lights cued the palpable, excitable atmosphere throughout as “The 1975” theme played out.
The gig that followed was a suitably eclectic performance featuring an everchanging, adapted setlist which spanned as many album eras as could be imagined; bringing first album instrumental tracks and rarely played ‘Menswear’ to the fore. Other treats included new songs ‘Guys’ and the instantly catchy ‘Too Shy’. The latter track featured a stunningly engaging saxophone solo from their resident saxophonist, John Waugh, who seemed to really revel in the opportunity to belt out the solos on tracks from ILWYS. The extremely energetic, synchronised routine from the Jaiy twins also must be credited as they seem to only grow in confidence and creativity with every gig – their routine for ‘It’s not living if it’s not with you’ is still easily the most impressive moment as they change and adapt their pace between each other and have total awareness of each other in the space.
Towards the endpoint of the show, Frontman Matty Healy takes a moment with the audience to tell them how special a particular song is for him in Manchester. It is a song entitled ‘I always want to die sometimes’ – a song which many times I have found problematic and unsure of why or how the harsh lyricism had made it onto the album. However, there is a special energy that radiates from this song when sung by a crowd and the way it was paired with the following song ‘Robbers’ helped me understand its importance. Although not a favourite of mine nor many fans, it does show growth and a change in understanding of the world. The words of Greta Thunburg ringing in my ears and thoughts of climate change deeply moved me later in the gig. In true The 1975 fashion they did not hold back on their opinion on the matter. Was it quite blunt? Perhaps, but undoubtedly admirable and a brilliant way to effectively use their platform regardless.
This band still resonates with current issues and although they may not blaze trails in a way that people once expected, they use their music to express issues that are important to them and their fans. What they are, are conveyors of modern culture, observers with highly conscious minds who revel and note the world around them, and that is about all that could be hoped for.