On December 19th, two clean cut and two scruffy Brits with wine bottles and classic guitars played a sold out show at the Roseland theater in Portland Oregon; a town of tweens whom chain-smoked and chatted as early as 7am while sitting in the rain for a show that the band itself probably didn’t even arrive to for another twelve hours.
The 1975 was without a doubt the busiest band of 2014, taking an equivalent of six laps around the world while playing 195 shows in 29 countries, and when they finally graced the stage at ten PM the lead singer Matt Healy drunkenly declared they would continue touring nonstop for the next two and a half years. Whether or not he was serious is still out in the open, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.
Lets talk about how awesome that concert really was.
Hopefully, you read last year’s concert review I did when I went to see these guys at the Paramount in Seattle. If you did, let’s skip the griping about everyone there being younger than me (but probably dying much sooner from all the underage smoking they did) and get right to the concert.
We seem to currently live in the age of the second coming of boybands, and the opening act Swim Deep was no exception. From Birmingham England, the group of five graced the stage for 30 of the shortest minutes of my life. As I’m still not completely familiar with them and their repertoire I can’t give a song-by-song synopsis, but what I will say is I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in such a short amount of time. Lead singer Austin Williams, though, seemed to carry most of the energy throughout the performance. On the technical side, the group was tight, focused and enormously talented on their respective instruments, but that seemed to be the main focus for them which was a little bit of a let down. Bassist Cavan McCarthy (Who was admittedly the only one within my line of vision for the entire set) never looked up from his instrument, his luscious bobbing hair being the only indication he was enjoying himself. I don’t ask for much, and I can imagine how nerve wracking hearing that many girls screaming your lyrics can be, but a smile or two would make a world of a difference to those of us who are being exposed to you for the first time. Some sound issues were also a let down- drowned-out keyboard effects and vocal harmonies from James Balmont being the main issue- but that’s hardly something to gripe about when focusing entirely on the band and their music.
Highlight of the set was the song “Forever Spacemen” from their newest album Mothers. The song, starting off with simple delicate melodies, quickly turns into an electro-pop-psychadelia madhouse that is reminiscent of Tame Impala. Hysterical cheers from the crowd clued me in that this was a popular song, and definitely was worth the artistic integrity they took with the live version.
Still, with Williams flying (and screaming) around the stage, waves of girls singing along, and an impeccable fashion sense (something I’m sure only I really noticed or cared about) Swim Deep was a wonderful addition to the show, and was a welcomed opportunity for me to explore some new music in the future (I seem to be a little behind the pack, too. I highly recommend getting to their Youtube page before they really make it big, because it’s going to be soon.)
After Swim Deep’s instruments were cleared off the stage, the sound I anticipated and dreaded began: the humming. The 1975 seems to favor this pulsating drone-noise before they start their set. It starts soft, maybe sounding like lift equipment outside the stage doors, but oh man does it get LOUDER. I guess that’s how the crowd knows it’s getting close to showtime: the noise gets louder, the lights get darker, and the smoke machines create a room that’s any asthmatic’s worst nightmare.
But who could worry about breathing when two lanky clean cut guitarists, a mop top with a wine glass, and a blonde in a button up waltzed onto the stage and casually commanded the presence of 900 teens (and drunk adults in the balcony) with a dynamic flash of pink lights and the riff that everyone had already memorized to one of their newer singles, Love Me. I would go on about how everyone in the room pretty much lost their minds, but I got to admit, I did too. My favorite song off the new album (thus far), Love Me consists mostly of catchy triplets on guitar accompanied by wavy synth notes alarmingly similar to David Bowie’s “Fame”. The crowd was jumping and the bar was set extremely high for the rest of the show.
I have been a fan of this band since early 2013, but I have learned that one of the most exciting elements about following a musician or band over the years is watching how they adapt to their surroundings, and The 1975 is doing just that. Their first album (self-titled) had a black and white aesthetic to it, but the new album to be released in February (which has the painfully pretentious title I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It) has a pink color scheme. This play on color was a major element during the concert, with the ballads of the 2013 album (and earlier EPs) having black and white or muted colors dance on the giant blocks behind them, which were also used in the video for their newest single, UGH!. Newer songs and faster paced songs had vibrant pinks and blues, patterns and exhuberant beaches bouncing around the screens behind them, which played to the mood of the audience in more ways than I think they realized. During their 2014 tour, the band had giant white rectangles (meant to be like their album cover). Though the cover for the next album is identical other than the color scheme, the stage setting for this tour was turned up a notch, much to my enjoyment.
I’m rambling about colors and albums and then versus now, but I’ll summarize: The new use of colors is wonderfully liberating and exciting, given the reputation the band built with their first album and the excessive use of black and white. Though most can attest to their talent, the group (especially Matt) can be known for a bit of a pretentious rock-star reputation, evident in their power lyrics appealing to the teenage demographic. This new use of color, in my opinion, is allowing for a wider range of people to grasp on to the lovesick cries and nostalgic tales of overcoming drug addiction, and gives a much more welcoming hand to the masses that have not yet experienced the happiness this group brings to the masses.
Aside from the element of color and the band’s unending stage presence, I was very relieved that more talking happened than just last year’s haphazard introduction and a straight set play through. Matt said hello, told us to put away our phones for an intimate rendition of the ballads Me and Falling For You, and discussed briefly how great Portland was (Duh) and that they’ll be touring for the next two and a half years (which I still haven’t 100% verified.) Another concert element that I griped about last year which was fixed this go around was the variation in the music. In the 2014 show, there was little to no extras for us: no extra extended bridges, no jam sessions in the middle of songs, nothing. When I come to a show, I expect to see you enjoying yourself and playing with the art you’ve created, so I was excited to hear an extended bridge of the song Robbers, as well as one of everybody’s favorite concert moments: a cappella crowd singing. The 1975 have always known how to play with their audience, but I think this go around they have discovered more exciting ways of doing so. Crowd engagement is an essential element in creating a good show and more importantly making it feel intimate. If they didn’t know how before, they certainly do now.
Finishing out the show were the band’s go-to singles Chocolate, a fake exit from the band, an uncomfortable two minutes of underage girls chanting “We Want Sex”, and of course, the song Sex. It was fun, it was funky, we got to hear some unreleased tracks, and I got a kick ass T shirt I’ll be wearing for days. (The 1975’s merch is always INSANELY soft… Thanks for looking out for us, guys.)
If it’s true and they’re touring for the next 2 1/2 years, then I can’t wait to watch round three of their Pacific Northwest run. But for now, I just hope they get some sleep and get to see their families before continuing their tour in Europe on January 15th.
Thanks for a great show, chaps.
-Crazy Catt Tayler
Featured image credit: Google, labeled for reuse