We live in a world of little-to-no nuance. If you’re not with something, you’re against; not pro, you’re anti. When it comes to Matty Healy, especially when considering the meta-workings of his and The 1975’s At Their Very Best shows, it pays to view things through a certain degree of distinction.
The outspoken frontman is no stranger to controversy. Just a week prior to The 1975’s huge Finsbury Park show, Dirty Hit labelmate Rina Sawayama had called him out during her Glastonbury set. She didn’t mention him by name, but the fact he was so obviously deduced by her criticism of someone who joked about watching racially-charged porn and mocking Asian people tells you all you need to know.
On the Sunday evening of a mammoth weekend at Finsbury Park – which had received the stomping processions of Jamie T and Pulp fans over the two previous days – Healy sought to quell some of the criticisms.
“The 1975 isn’t a dry band, there’s a lot of irony in it,” he told the 50,000-capacity outdoor venue. “I was always trying stuff: some stuff I got right, and some stuff I got wrong. There’s a lot of things that I’ve said, jokes that I’ve made that I would take back.
“What I mean is I really am only doing this because I want to make you guys laugh and feel good… and that’s all I’m trying to do, and I get a bit excited. And you know what? I’m fucking proud of myself.”
Outside of the spectacle of their imposing At Their Very Best staging, which displays a giant house and sea of TV screens, he might still be British music’s perennial bad boy. But having kicked-off this show with the panning drone of the opener to their self-titled 2013 album, and segueing into the light and airy rock-pop charm of ‘Looking For Somebody (To Love)’, it’s hard not to be swept up in the euphoria of it all. You might be still rooted, arms folded, in your principles – that might even make you a better person than I – but you’re not having nearly as much enjoyment.
What’s more, whilst Healy asserting his own catalogue’s irony might be akin to explaining a joke – the end-result being that the joke’s, well, no longer funny – the curly-haired crooner had a point. The subsequent back-to-back running of ‘Happiness’ and ‘Love Me’ demonstrated their offerings that deliver what they say on the tin. There isn’t some deep, portentous meaning, just upbeat grooves and feelgood spirit.
The show was almost entirely divided into two: tracks from their latest album, Being Funny In A Foreign Language, followed by a dive into prior LPs. A three-track run of consecutive tunes from last year’s record ran through the jaggedy strings of ‘Part Of The Band’ and the shimmering dejection of ‘Oh Caroline’ before delivering the singalong profession of love via ‘I’m In Love With You’.
These tunes, lyrically and sonically, sound like the mirages of classics, borrowing from cliche and long-standing tropes – take the latter’s stupidly simple chorus, “I’m in love with you, I-I-I-I”, for instance. That would typically be an outright criticism in most contexts, but The 1975’s delivery makes it a strength, providing a lightness and ease.
Jamie T had ensured his set on Friday was a family affair, inviting his mum and dad down for just their third gig of his, and Healy followed suit – even if Tim Healy and Denise Welch’s appearances at The 1975 shows has been a well-documented part of the band’s recent touring. Tim was brought out onstage for a rendition of ‘All I Need To Hear’, donning sunglasses and channelling his inner Van the Man. The father-and-son hug at the end wasn’t just a sweet moment, but humanised The 1975 showman.
Elsewhere, the group delivered more anthemic punches via the likes of ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’, ‘Sex’ and belter ‘Love It If We Made It’, matched by the more serene atmospherics ‘Medicine’ and ‘fallingforyou’.
For whatever reason, fan favourite ‘Chocolate’ wasn’t played, but the absence of a track like that says more about the band’s respectable five-album deep catalogue: you simply can’t play every banger in the setlist. The inclusion of ‘Robbers’ and ‘Give Yourself A Try’ did enough to cover the difference.
No doubt much of the online criticism aimed at Matty Healy is warranted. He’s said some strange things in his time, and may well do once more down the line. But the Finsbury Park show wasn’t just an exhibition of having the art separated from the artist in front of your very eyes, but peeled away the digital hostilities from the real-life showstopper The 1975 can consistently deliver.