Much has been made of The 1975’s mammoth recent tour. And not just Matty Healy’s witty (or otherwise) remarks circulating the Twitter-sphere after each and every show; the guessing game of which top-tier act will join them, or even videos of Denise Welch, the nation’s proudest matriarch, seen cheering her son on from the sidelines.
Set predominantly in a makeshift house, it’s been highly acclaimed for its theatrics, too; a kind of meta approach to showmanship that figures the band as the best in the world, the tour even knowingly titled At Their Very Best. (Sometimes – just sometimes, though – if you say these things long enough, they come to fruition).
At Manchester’s Gorilla this week, a 550-capacity venue that couldn’t hold the same elaborate staging, The 1975 pared it right back, playing songs almost exclusively from their 2013 eponymous debut. Only, the whole being-the-best-band-in-the-world-right-now-thing – that stays. Given this was for BRITs Week (presented by Mastercard) – in aid of the charity War Child – egos were left well and truly at the door.
And there’s the rub of Healy’s performative qualities. Even his onstage ego is something of a ruse. He seems to have perfected an onstage self-awareness as he sips from his bottle of wine and smokes in the guise of Johnny Cash, which lets fans at his shows feel like they’re in on the gag, closer to the real Healy than audiences gone by.
“Have you seen what we’ve been up to lately?” he tells the Manchester crowd, as though a global tour was just a silly pastime. Like the clothes Healy peeled off one by one, throughout the approximate hour-and-a-half set, he removes back the layers of his character, leaving nothing but charisma. And, needless to say, plays some remarkable tunes.
To turn to that, then. I hadn’t quite appreciated the silky synth-rock of The 1975’s debut record until now. I guess that’s to be expected when you get the rare treat of seeing an album played live from start to finish, with the band having to meld the tunes together onstage.
Despite Healy’s admittance to us that he “never knew the fucking lyrics” because he “was wasted” when he wrote them (as if), the album’s tales of love, jealousy and the occasional non-sequiturs are all packed with charm. You go from the arena rock of ‘The City’, deploring unrequited love, to the upbeat pop of ‘Girls’, which is almost ironic in its infantile take on teenage love.
Then there are gems you might have forgotten about. ‘Menswear’ isn’t so much a tune but a palette cleanser with its reverberating opener and heavily synthesized vocals. Healy took to the piano alone for album closer ‘Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You’, chummily remarking, “Ah, feelings, eh?” when he finished.
There’d be more feelings to come, some not induced by their debut. ‘I’m In Love With You’, from the band’s latest record, Being Funny In A Funny Language, provided an opportune call-and-response with the crowd, temporarily satisfying the wishes of many. (Among the signs at this particular gig, which are now commonplace at The 1975 shows, one read: ‘Matty, what are you doing later?’).
A whole band version of ‘Be My Mistake’ (from 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships) followed by a rousing finisher of ‘About You’, also from the latest record, showed that The 1975 haven’t become too big for their boots. Instead, revelling in the luxury of harking back to their debut, they showed they could distil the essence of what makes a live band shine.
I didn’t go as a 1975 stan, but I certainly left as one.