Sunday 18 February 2024

The 1975 - Manchester Arena - 17th February 2024

Very few bands divide opinion as much as The 1975 these days. Persuaded to go along by two friends who are devotees to their headline show at the Arena in Manchester eleven years after being completely unimpressed by a nascent version of the band, we went with an open mind...

It's eleven years since my only other encounter with The 1975, other than Matty Healy commenting on my jumper last year when his appearance in the Northern Quarter briefly set Twitter alight and I had no idea who the guy was as I nodded back at him. Valentine's Day 2013 at The Borderline in London when the hype was starting to swirl around them. They were shit, really shit. Before anyone jumps to their defence, I was there, you probably weren't and I recorded the gig and listened back to it last week and came to the same conclusion. I'd have bet my house on them not getting close to the stratospheric status they've reached and I'd have been out on the streets with those who camp three days to see them each time with some mad numbering system.

We get the camping thing. Back in the 90s we used to queue for James from early morning, sometimes in the biting cold of December in exposed locations like the seafront in Brighton. First come, first served, that's how the barrier works. It doesn't ruin anyone else's gig experience by you doing so, whatever anyone who thinks they can rock up at doors and stand at the barrier might say, so whilst you're mad, live your best life and stay safe.

Somewhere between 2013 and now The 1975 got good, very good indeed for 80% of the show when they realise they make an infectious brand of guitar pop that connects with an audience of teens, twenties and early thirties. For two hours we're surrounded by people to whom this means everything to them and we get it and we get drawn in. 

The first half of the show draws from their most recent album Being Funny In A Foreign Language, their strongest and most complete work to date. Appearing one by one turning on the lights that adorn the house scene that fills the stage, the roars as they appear and are introduced on the big screen are ear-shattering. Oh Caroline, Robbers and You are the highlights, but the record as a whole is strong enough to stand up to the expectations of a twenty-thousand crowd night after night in a way many attempts at classic album run-throughs fail for bands on the nostalgia circuit. The expanded eight piece line-up make a noise big enough to fill stadiums, which has to be their next aim after the rumoured hiatus, a million miles away from the piss weak 2013 version we witnessed. Polly Money's vocals flesh out the moments where Matty's need it and without her the impact would be far less.

Even better is the end section in particular from TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME through Chocolate, the Sound, Love If We Made It and Sex is particularly impressive, the big screens being put to use and the whole arena from top to bottom on their feet bouncing, cameras in the air and completely immersed in the music before they finish with Matty, Adam and Ross on the B-stage living out their rock and roll fantasies to People. It's at moments like this that the appeal of The 1975 is impossible to decry, despite the best efforts of those who mocked us being at this show on social media when we checked in. It was a far more enjoyable experience than Peter Kay's tired and tested routine here a couple of weeks and the crowd's ecstatic response to them tells its own story.

Matty acknowledges the importance of the band versus the individual at numerous points through the evening, telling us he'd be nothing without the rest of them, the core members of the band being life long friends and that bond is clear in their interactions throughout. Ironically given his statements the 20% of the show we're least impressed is when he takes centre stage, the staged theatrics that detract a little from a rock show and the self-indulgent Matty's Nightmare when he lies on the floor staring at TV screens playing news snippets including some about him before crawling through one of the screens and moving to the B-stage about the mixing desk to roll around with a naked model of a male body. To be fair it's an attempt to break up the show, to make it a spectacle rather than a traditional gig, but for us, it kills the momentum they'd built up.

He comments about people thinking he's a nepo baby, referencing his mum's appearance in Coronation Street, and sniping that it gave him a number one in America. You don't get that of course because of who your parents are, because people have to connect with the music and buy (into) it, but it opens doors that remain closed to other bands. He also urges men who might be afraid to look gay by jumping that they'll look gayer by not jumping. We don't jump and we don't care whether we look gay because there's nothing wrong with being gay Matthew. 

When he sticks to being the frontman of an indie pop band playing the biggest stage in their hometown (of sorts) he has very few peers. His energy, the beaming smile across his face, his pointing at those in the front row for whom seventy-two hours of camping is all made worthwhile by a finger pointed in their direction or their joy-filled face appearing on the big screen. Whatever you may think of him, at that moment he's living out the dream that he and his mates had when they were writing songs not too far from here and dreaming of filling this place once not the multiple times they now could. We probably wouldn't go and see them again, but we'd be lying through our teeth if we said they were shit in 2024 like they were in 2013.


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