“I’ve always wanted to say this… Good evening the O2” frontman Matty Healy speaks for the first time on stage, almost breathlessly, between ‘Heart Out’ and ‘Change of Heart’, as the band settle comfortably into the second sold out night at London’s O2 Arena. The Manchester lads appear on stage, suit clad, and perform an effortlessly brilliant and stunningly beautiful two hour set to a packed out arena.
The 1975 played the second of two sold out shows at London’s prestigious O2 Arena on their latest sold out UK arena tour. The Friday night show (this one) was the first of the two shows (and whole tour) to be announced and fully sold out in minutes. These shows are the band’s biggest shows to date and they were again accompanied by label mates The Japanese House. This UK tour tops off a massive year for the band featuring two UK tours (including three sold out shows at Brixton Academy and two sold out shows at the O2 Arena), a stunning number 1 album, a Mercury Prize nomination and plenty of festival sets. They’ve toured almost non-stop for the last year and it has been a rollercoaster ride.
The band played for nearly two whole hours and played songs which spanned across both albums and also previous EPs. Songs like ‘A Change of Heart’ bled seamlessly into songs like ‘Robbers’, whilst the set was sewn together by breathtaking instrumentals, talking and interludes, such as ‘Please Be Naked’ and ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’, from the latest album of the same name. The band’s song ‘Milk’ (a hidden track from the ‘Sex’ EP, which can be found at the end of ‘You’, if you’re willing to wait long enough) was played for the first time in the UK on this tour since 2014, due to fan demand, too.
“It’s been a mental year, hasn’t it?” Matty Healy asks the crowd between ‘Milk’ and ‘Loving Someone’, in reflection of their own year and also 2016 collectively. Matty Healy is known for his onstage speeches (I’m reluctant to in any way call them rants or preaches) and tonight’s speech seemed relevant and, almost, too real. I saw the band play Glastonbury the day after the Brexit vote had been announced where Matty spoke, before ‘Loving Someone’, about the lack of compassion outside of Glastonbury and wanting to encapsulate Glasto spirit and ethos and put it into everyone and everyday life and Matty’s words resonated with me. For some reason tonight’s words had the same effect. People listen to him.
“I’m not here to talk about politics. We’re not here to think about politics. We’re here for a release…” Matty opened “it’s not about fuck Donald Trump that’s the thing…We see loads of young, liberal, compassionate people every night, so this is like our world. This is the world that we see. So when things go at odds of that it’s really confusing and… it makes you really angry and the thing is I know it’s very sad to see all these young voices of progression and change being drowned out by regressive, ideals and bullshit- it’s very sad- and it appears to be paradigms of race and it is about that and it is about gender and it is about age and it is about sexuality, but it’s also about a lot of those that voted against what we stand for… They feel so, so disenfranchised by both sides of political systems that that felt like the right thing to do, so if we’re young, right, and we’re liberal and we’re compassionate and we’re Muslim and we’re black and we’re gay and we’re whatever, if we are that then it’s out responsibility to be compassionate and to listen to everybody, listen to their concerns and move things forward… and you are our people and we love you so fucking much you have no idea… This song is about loving someone.”
The band played ‘Loving Someone’ under a stage lit with rainbow colours, to symbolise the ‘pride’ flag. This, along with the speech, gave the song a special and important message, hidden within the lyrics. It’s one of the best, stand out songs on the album (if not the year), one which I like very much. It’s lyrics are witty and clever, but resonate. It’s almost a protest song, but one of and for peace.
The band played ‘FallingForYou’, but asked for fans to put down their phones and watch it with their eyes and in the moment, as opposed to on a screen. The band feel as though they’re simultaneously battling against modern life, but aiding it and supporting it perhaps more than all. There’s a definite feeling of wanting people to live in the moment and experience things, but also a ‘change the world’, ‘spread the word’ sort of message. It’s empowering. The arena was lit only by the stage lights and there was not a phone light in sight. This was amazing. A couple got engaged at the end of the song, too, and Matty Healy was one of the first to congratulate them- “good song choice, mate. Nice”- before trying (and failing) to get them on stage and ending up in the crowd for a selfie.
The band played a four song encore of ‘Medicine’, ‘If I Believe’, ‘Chocolate’ and ‘The Sound’. During ‘Medicine’ the area was lit by lighters and phone torches. It was incredible and visually stunning to see the area lit up this way, as many looked around in awe. It felt intimate. However, ‘The Sound’ was the highlight of the set for me. A song destined for areas. The whole of The O2 Area was jumping with the band as they played for the last time leaving the audience on a high. It was a buzz which took days to shake- not that I had any interest in shaking it- and it was easily one of the best concerts I’ve been to this year.
The 1975’s stage design and craft were brilliant, too. The band’s lit screens were the continuing focal point of the performance. The columns and accompanying screens changed colour sympathetically with the songs, as they have done on previous tours. However, this time The 1975 had light beams and screens either side of the stage so that fans at the back could see because the place was well and truly packed (right up to the top). The set was not just audibly pleasing, it was aesthetically pleasing too and created this immersive experience.
There’s something special in the community spirit of a show by The 1975. Something quite poignant and almost tragic, yet everyone’s brought together by the same thing. Take ‘Robbers’ for example where everyone joins in, without Matty Healy saying anything, by saying “Now everybody’s dead” or, similarly, in ‘FallingForYou’ where the whole crowd collectively sing “I don’t wanna be your friend I wanna kiss your neck”. Each song means something different to everyone and yet everyone is there together not only to celebrate The 1975’s music, something which everyone has in common, but also for their own personal reasons. It’s hard to stay objective about this.
What this show affirmed was The 1975 are made for arenas. They’re an arena band. I saw them play shows at the O2 Kentish Town Forum and at Brixton’s O2 Academy this year and, yes, they were good, but something about them makes them so fascinating on this huge platform. They almost need that. They’re a huge band, arguably one of the biggest, most current bands, and there’s more to it than just good songs. They crave the atmosphere of a huge arena.
Interestingly, The 1975 had been gradually deteriorating throughout the year (in my eyes). I’ve seen them six times this year- which is mad in itself- and each time has been very different. The first time I saw them this year was the first time they had played live since the album had been released at The O2 Kentish Town Forum for a BBC event. They were back and on top form and on their way to another number one album, which had been brilliantly recieved. This, however, slipped over the next few months, where I saw the band play at Radio One’s Big Weekend. The performance was upsettingly awful, somewhat cringe worthy and very embarrassing. In fact, I’d rather not have seen it. It ruined the ideals I had surrounding the band, although they’re only human. They were exhausted, Matty wasn’t allowed to drink or smoke on stage and was very angry, they were a drummer down (George Daniel had dislocated his shoulder) and were given a half hour set paralleling Stormzy, which was mostly spent with Matty mouthing off BBC staff and the institution about the smoking/drinking rules. At this point, I questioned whether the band (or Matty) would make it to the end of the year. Their set at Glastonbury totally redeemed this though and their BBC Radio 1/NME Stage headline performance at Reading Festival further confirmed their triumphant uprising. Their O2 Arena set, however, was unlike anything I’d ever seen them do before. It was stunningly breathtaking. Phenomenal. Matty Healy was on top form and any doubts I’d ever had had gone. They were truly brilliant. I hope this continues and I hope that they have a good break before releasing another album because they’re clearly exhausted. It’s been a year since I saw them play at The Brighton Centre and to go from The Brighton Centre to The O2 in a year is a huge step, but a necessary one. They can do it and they can probably do it better than anyone at the moment.
What’s next for The 1975? I don’t know. World domination, probably. Festival headline slots? Almost definitely. Watch this space. The 1975 aren’t done yet. They’re only just getting started.