The 1975 @ Manchester Arena
Words: Rhiannon Boden, Photos: Cai Dixon
The 1975 are a hard band to compartmentalise. Having eschewed classification as far as genre goes and defied consensus among the critics, questions abound regarding everything from their authenticity, to their style, to Matty Healy’s dance moves. In fact, standing amongst the crowd at the Manchester natives’ much awaited return home it would be all too easy to ask: How does an act go from being branded NME’s ‘worst band of the year’ only two short years ago, to here? The answer is the reason everyone is there in the first place - the music.
Of course, the most difficult job of the night arguably went to The Japanese House, who was tasked with keeping the attention of a predominantly young, and Snapchat happy, crowd until the objects of their desire appear. Casually dressed and entirely at ease, Amber Baines and her band seemed the very embodiment of disinterested cool, an illusion that was shattered to reveal an endearing and enthusiastic frontwoman from the first chord.
Though there was never a point where the set lost its synth-heavy dream-pop appeal, it was Face Like Thunder from newest EP Swim Against The Tide that proved to be the standout, ensuring that even those who had entered the arena with no idea who was opening were incapable of leaving the same way. Baines, for her part, ended the show with as much whimsy as her discography, crouching to receive a rose from a fan before quietly slipping away.
By then, only a short interval and around six minutes of ear splitting, discordant white noise - the only questionable aesthetic choice of the evening - stood between The 1975 and their adoring public. When they did emerge, Matty the epitome of the rakish dandy with his foppish hair, red wine and sharp suit, it was to a rapturous reception that didn’t once seem to dip in enthusiasm. The set balanced heavy-hitters and more obscure album tracks with ease, dancing between old and new with as much erratic charm as Matty danced across the stage, with even the more experimental electronica being used as a palate cleanser to allow the show to change tone and the fans to change their snapchat filters.
All the obvious favourites were present, Love Me kicked off the proceedings in a blast of neon pink light and fizzy pop-appeal, and the quick succession of Paris, Girls and Sex took the energy to fever pitch so quickly that several parents looked alarmed and some fans seemed to think it was all too much. However, it was in the less obvious moments that Matty’s skill and showmanship were most evident, the quick trade-off of instruments in the blackout between songs, the impulsive decision to include older songs as a homage to his mum and brother who were watching from the crowd, a serendipitous moment where following an impassioned speech imploring people not to “harden their positions, however sad it is to see young progressive voices being drowned out by regressive ideals” a rainbow flag emblazoned with the words Loving Someone was plucked from the crowd during the opening of that very song.
It was a show not just about the music, but about the moment, about being present. Encore pick Medicine was the only place in which Matty’s vocals failed, because he was visibly sobbing as he looked at the ocean of torches that had sprung up around him, and Chocolate shook the arena with intensity when the crowd were told to dance. Red wine was spilled and chants of “take it off!” were coyly denied, describing Manchester as “the best fucking city in the world” and the show as “the best night of my whole fucking life” with such a sense of self belief it was hard not to believe him. And whilst his earlier imploration for the crowd to put their phones away and stop validating an experience by documenting it in order to feel together as a people had seemed pretentious and patronising at the time, there was no denying the power of his words. With the hold The 1975 had over their audience they could have demanded just about anything, and they demanded connection over artifice, which is about as close to the true spirit of indie as it is possible to get.