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The 1975 finally ascend to arenas with a triumphant Manchester homecoming

14 December 2016, 14:52 | Written by Joe Goggins

The 1975 were always supposed to end up here.

February’s second album - the outstanding record of 2016, for this reviewer’s money - was a fabulously eccentric and positively sprawling statement of intent, from its ludicrous title - I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it - to its total lack of regard for traditional genre boundaries. There’s been a few rock bands, in recent years, that have greeted their ascension to arenas with a reluctant shrug, perhaps sensing that enormodomes were always bound to dilute the connection with their audience or rob them of the acoustic advantages of a more intimate setting. The 1975 are not one of those outfits.

Which is not, for a minute, to suggest that they’ve arrived at the Manchester Arena before time. A cold glance over the stats suggests they could have booked this place before; they sold out four nights at the Apollo - capacity 3,500 - across town back in March. They play two nights at the O2 in London later this week but, again, they probably could’ve gotten away with filling most of a place like that on their last record, let alone this one, which topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. They turned down a main stage slot at Reading and Leeds this year in favour of headlining the NME tent. Matty Healy is sometimes found wanting in the self-awareness stakes but you can’t accuse him of having rushed his band to the top.

Everything about the group’s stage setup suggests they’ve been building for an arena tour; they played a handful of rooms like this in the States this year, but this is their first out-and-out run of dates in the less-than-hallowed surrounds of the likes of Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena and Glasgow’s SSE Hydro - both to follow. Their light show, conceived by Healy and designed by Tobias Rylander, scooped a loftily-titled Knight of Illumination award back in September and not without merit. Tonally, the album’s visual aesthetic across a slew of accompanying artwork dealt mainly in soft pink, but the stage show is a clear tip of the hat to James Turrell - a veritable symphony in fluorescence that sees the cuboid pillars the band play in amongst burn bright red for “She’s American”, turn a violent concoction of violet and green for “A Change of Heart” and light up in the rainbow colours of the LGBTQ+ movement for “Loving Someone”.

That all of this feels like such a vital part of what it is that The 1975 are trying to do should be enough to tell you that they’re a long way from the run-of-the-mill indie pop outfit they were widely derided as, on account of appearances more than anything, when they released their self-titled debut three years ago. That album is well-represented tonight, along with the series of EPs that preceded it; the garish big hitters “Girls” and “Chocolate” are undroppable, but “Robbers” - a sweeping, True Romance-inspired ode to doomed lovers that was the first song they wrote and still one of their best - makes an early appearance despite having been phased out of the setlist this year. “Undo” and “Milk” are among the EP deep cuts, and “fallingforyou” - against a backdrop of fizzing static - provides the obligatory ‘phones away’ moment.

It’s their second record that’s the real step forward, though, and all of this arena production’s most thrilling moments are plucked from it. The title track segues from cooing ambience - “before you go, turn the big light off” - to thumping electro in the style of Jon Hopkins. “Paris” somehow turns “Every Breath You Take” into a crushing lullaby about bad habits. “UGH!” is a weird, spasmic funk exploration of coke addiction. Healy’s mantra is that he creates in the same way he consumes and that’s why The 1975 don’t just get away with sitting, say, the D’Angelo-aping minimalist R&B of agnostic anthem "If I Believe You" next to the soaring post-rock of “Lostmyhead” - it actually feels crucial. It's this diversity that's fast becoming their signature.

It feels as if a lot of people have done a bit of a U-turn on The 1975 this year. There’s probably never been fiercer competition for the average listener’s attention than there is in the current musical climate and given Healy’s penchant for deliberately playing up to the image of the dickhead rock star, you can perhaps forgive detractors for hearing a couple of gaudy singles, seeing something as deliberately brash as the “Love Me” video or February’s Saturday Night Live performance and jumping to the wrong conclusions. It's precisely because of that that the nerveless manner in which the band have navigated consistently choppy waters should be hugely commende; they've endured through years of rejection from major labels, and the changing tide of critical and public opinion. There aren’t enough characters like Healy in music any more; he, like his band, exudes a potent mixture of self-obsession and self-assurance, and he, like his band, feels like a bit of a one-off.

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