– Arena, Manchester –

The 1975

The 1975

There’s no two ways about it: this is the most thrilling arena show I’ve ever seen. It’s quite a grand statement to make, but what Matty Healy et al have constructed (and constructed is definitely the word) for the mega-tour in support of their latest album Being Funny in a Foreign Language (BFIAFL) is extraordinary in its scope, imagination, and sheer ‘what the fuck-ery’; a show that should fundamentally redefine what a huge arena tour should be. Filed alongside Beyoncé’s exquisite Coachella show in 2018, I can’t imagine any elite level popstar can just stand on stage and deliver their songs with a backing band and get away with it after this. This show is more than a band at the peak of their powers delivering the hits that the crowd want to hear (although we do get this too in ‘act II’); it’s performance art.

There has been so much written about this show, such is its genre busting, meme-generating form, that I don’t quite know what to add to the discourse that will be useful – if you like The 1975 you will have read all about it, you will have scrolled TikTok and Insta consuming snippets; if you don’t, then you probably have too, just to roll your eyes at it all. The sheer confidence of a band (possibly of one man – Healy wrote and ‘creatively directed’ the show) to put on something like this to arenas full of people is astonishing, and that they (mostly) pull it off to this level is testament to letting someone’s creative vision run riot. The set is incredible, an almost full scale ground floor of a house complete with garage, telegraph pole, lots of TV sets and lamps, all of which will be utilised at various points across the first act of this two part extravaganza. The show feels like one of those classic American sitcoms being filmed with us as the audience, even to the point where, in one of the most meta parts of the the show, everything stops and Healy asks for a ‘retake’, people in lab coats coming on (again, as they do throughout the show to tinker with the set) to reset everything and slam a filming clapboard for the next ‘take’. All this is projected onto two massive screens either side of the stage, sometimes featuring credits (guest stars!) filmed from various viewpoints, often right up in Healy’s expressive face, adding to the show-within-a-show-within-a-show, Inception-lite feeling. The only thing missing is canned laughter being pumped into the room (although maybe that would have been appropriate at some points).

The first act revolves around songs mostly from BFIAFL, and mirrors the albums’ themes of the fragile and toxic elements of masculinity in the early 2020s. Indeed, some of it is a bit on the nose – at the end of the act Healy, alone and topless on stage, having groped himself whilst smoking a cigarette (something he does throughout (the smoking!) as well as swigging from a bottle of red wine and a hip flask), eats a hunk of raw steak, and then does press ups in front of TV screens showing clips of Andrew Tate, Alex Jones, Joe Rogan, and then a parade of evil from the upper echelons of the Tory party including Thatcher, Sunak and May, before he is literally consumed by it all by crawling into one of the TVs to end the phenomenal first half whilst Gustav Mahler’s towering Symphony 5 plays (which seems to be enjoying a renaissance at the moment – it plays a large part in the magnificent new Todd Field film Tár).

The 1975 @ Manchester Arena

Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes

What is real and what is not is hard to distinguish. Is it The 1975 filming a show? Is Healy really very drunk and messy (probably not – at one point the fourth wall is broken as someone brings Healy a Lemsip on stage and he says ‘this is real, this is Lemsip, what I actually drink’)? Is Healy breaking down with the emotion of it all, the heavy toll of a world tour and the extra pressure of a home town show (possibly, as when he sings the beautiful ‘About You’ alongside Carly Holt, he has his head on her shoulders and she clearly asks him if he’s ok, which he nods yes to)? Is he meant to be in a relationship with bassist Ross MacDonald who appears to be the other half of the couple at various points? I’m not sure about any of the above, but it makes for fascinating viewing – I wasn’t expecting to have to try to deconstruct an elaborate construction like this on a Friday night at the arena. It’s almost like watching Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Synecdoche, New York’, which must have been an inspiration. There’s some utterly gorgeous moments amongst all the meta narratives. Healy puts a coat on and goes ‘outside’ up on the roof of the set to sing ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’, an escape, a cry for help perhaps, delivered with the utmost emotion; ‘When We Are Together’ is a moment of pure straight faced sincerity with it’s heartbreaking refrain of ‘the only time I feel I might get better is when we are together’, a phone-torches in the air moment, a pause for people to embrace their loved ones and sway along. Amongst all this the new songs sound incredible, the whole play imbuing them with new meaning – ‘Oh Caroline’ and ‘I’m In Love with You’ positively shimmer, already sounding like classics.

After this extraordinary theatre, the band disperse from the set, Healy climbs the telegraph pole and literally pulls a switch to shut the thing down, and in the ‘interval’ Charlii XCX (!!) comes on to sing her behemoth ‘Vroom Vroom’ – a single song performed by one of the most exciting popstars on one of the biggest tours in the world – just goes to show the pulling power The 1975 currently have. The band return to the stage dressed in black suits, Healy introducing this half as ‘The 1975 at their very best’, in which the band, probably having tested the patience of some people in attendance (although perhaps this is unfair – everyone seems to be engrossed throughout), give everyone what they want to hear; a run of greatest hit songs so catchy that it’s a wonder any other acts have melodies and hooks to use. We get a visceral ‘Love It If We Made It’ (still one of the greatest opening lines of a major pop single ‘we’re fucking in a car shooting heroin, saying controversial things just for the hell of it’), ‘The Sound’, ‘Give Yourself a Try’, ‘Chocolate’, ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’, ‘Robbers’ and ‘Somebody Else’, amongst others, and it’s spectacular. The crowd lap it up, dancing and singing along to every single word, Healy wouldn’t have to bother singing if he didn’t fancy it. It’s a show of absolute power, a major flex, and adds to the meta feeling of the night – we’ve just shown you the best arena show your tiny minds have seen, and now we’re calling this bit ‘at their very best’ and playing what you want to hear, just because we can.

Wherever Healy takes this band next will be fascinating to see. In an interview with Variety he said ‘doing a straight-up, no-frills rock show would be like “accepting some kind of defeat”’, and now he’s set expectations for their next show sky high – what he does to top this will be interesting. I want to see this show again, and then again, and maybe once more. Every festival around the globe should be throwing money at them to headline with it. Every A-list pop act should be quaking in their boots, intimidated by the scale of this. Perhaps only Kendrick, Beyoncé and Gaga can match it. Two hours of performance art pop perfection.

The 1975: Official | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram