Published Jun 04, 2019Calling the 1975 "an internet band" is so common it's become a cliché. But what that not-untrue characterization of the UK quartet misses is their ability to navigate the world IRL, which means performing your songs for the masses.
It took the group little time to prove themselves a worthy recent entry onto the North American arena circuit. Entering the stage to the latest iteration of "The 1975 Theme," they quickly ticked off many of the singles from A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships ("Give Yourself a Try," "TooTimeTooTimeTooTime"). Not that the audience was looking for proof. The packed crowd — the band's biggest-ever in Canada, claimed frontman Matty Healy — were dedicated converts, singing along with every word. These are the heights a band can reach without a single radio hit (at least in North America) in the streaming age.
On record, every note, every lyric the group lay down seems to be loaded with references and meaning, and the band's stage set seemed to extend that trend. Boxed in by three large, LCD-lit rectangles, the screens behind them played a barrage of distorted images and meme-esque messages. You could read a lot into it (just how obsessed with Stop Making Sense are these guys?) or just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
More often than not, Healy was more interested in the former, taking a postmodern view of the whole thing between songs (sample dialogue after tripping over a light: "It's hard being a rock star — am I even a rock star?"), apologizing for all the hip thrusts he was about to do during "Love Me." This was "crowd work" he noted, before dissecting that term too.
Yet Healy manages to achieve something onstage that's an impossibility elsewhere: direct human connection. Though his bandmates (plus two backup singer/dancers and an unnamed keyboard and saxophone player) were relatively stone-faced throughout the 22-song set, Healy appeared relaxed and elated to simply be living in the moment, lapping up the crowd's rapturous response to his every move, rather than living in his head (at least for most of the night). At his most unguarded moments, you got an inkling that there's a version of this band that could thrive in a more spontaneous setting, but the demands of modern stadium shows and band's penchant for intricate production work keeps the playing and set list stuck in place.
With the set front-loaded with current "hits," the band stacked slow-burning deep cuts like "You" and "fallingforyou" in the back half. The slow simmer should have dragged down the energy but the buoyant crowd ate the songs up; providing running commentary for the show, Healy noted that streaming had managed to make these songs "relevant" again.
They finished the main set with "Somebody Else" and "I Always Want to Die (Sometimes)" before sliding into a high-impact encore that kicked off with a sped-up version of "Love It If We Made It." "Chocolate" and "Sex" followed and, as Healy noted, the raw and ripping version of the latter could have served as the perfect show closer "if it weren't for my ego." Still, as closers go, it's hard to beat a song as infectious as "The Sound," which had the crowd jumping and singing along even as the screens behind the band flashed messages that poked fun at the whole thing ("There's no danger in this music at all"; "Unconvincing lyrics").
Like pretty much everything the 1975 do, what shouldn't work does. The self-aware on-stage posturing only further endure the band to their fans. They have the catalogue and musical chops to back it up, and when Healy manages to get out of his own way (and head), they are an absolute force on stage.