The Manchester quartet The 1975 have gone from word-of-mouth crossover success to packed arenas in a remarkably short space of time. Some jitters would be forgivable – yet what we see in Sheffield is sheer confidence and some audacious staging.
The 1975 have long abandoned strung leads as their MO, instead pushing ever further into soundscapes of gauzy synths, distorted loops and the romantic hum of late 80s Hot 100 pop.
Yet the tension at their core is undoubtedly that of a rock band, one that uses drums-bass-rhythm-lead as their form, and in this mould they play exceptionally well. Besides their pin-up Matty Healy, fan-girl hysteria and tendency towards melodrama, they still click as a band.
Whether the ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ scan ‘Girls’ or the raunchy white funk of INXS endued ‘Love Me’, the performances are as muscular as anything you’d see from a band with twice the indie cred. Crucially, they remember the power of a good solo, and when guitarist Adam Hann is allowed to open up, particularly on ‘Love Me’ and the climactic ‘The Sound’, it’s spectacular.
As for the stage trickery, the main gimmick is a stage-spanning travellator, best used on ‘Sincerity is Scary’, where the video is recreated woolly hat and all. Later, Matty Healy rises on a plinth to lie down inside a giant iPhone. That may sound vaguely absurd, but it softens some of the more poignant messages of the night. ‘I Love America & America Loves Me’ touches on gun violence, while ‘Love It If We Made It’ is essentially the State of the Nation as a pop song, capturing the message of the show perfectly: “Modernity has failed us”.
It allows the band to have their cake and eat it too: to have a message of social justice without it feeling preachy. Matty Healy is well known for his public outbursts on stage and in the press but he confesses an intent to pare it back. “Brexit….fuck” is as far as that gets – perhaps wise given where Sheffield fell on that particular debate.
This being The 1975 the motif is very much chic minimalism. Enormous neon-hued rectangles box in the stage, while blocky font crowds out the huge LCD screens. The 1975 have always believed that more is more, and that penchant for maximalism has not changed. The setlist is unwieldy, sagging a little in the middle due to a bloat of mid-tempo numbers, even if the gorgeous ‘Medicine’ more than earns its place.
The 1975 have gone some way to cementing their role as Biggest Guitar Band. That job will surely be finished by some festival headline slots in the summer – but that was quite a show.
Photo Credit: Jordan Curtis Hughes