Pop music can make you feel whatever age you want to be.
If you’re in a hurry to grow up, pop can make you feel older and more sophisticated. If you never want the current moment to end, pop can freeze time and make the night last forever. And if you’re worried that your youth is rapidly slipping away, pop can bring you back to more innocent times and make you feel young again.
All three of those kinds of pop fans were present at the 1975's sold-out show at the Armory on Tuesday night. Kids seeing their first live show got the thrill of walking into a packed club and watching their favorite songs come to life. Plenty in attendance would have been happy to keep dancing all night long, never wanting the feeling to end. And veteran music fans took joy in seeing a new generation lose themselves in the songs, while tapping back into the energy and spirit that made them fall in love with music in the first place.
The Manchester, England quartet were playing their biggest local show yet, in support of their recent hit record, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. The stage was lit with a neon picture frame, echoing the album art of their last record, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. But rather than centering on images, the picture frame mostly captured a series of polychromatic colors that represented the mercurial moods of the music, while framing the band itself as a work of modern art.
"This is a sad song. They are all fucking sad songs. But this is a really sad song," frontman Matty Healy announced towards the end of the main set, introducing "I Like America & America Likes Me." And indeed, beneath the glossy, shimmering veneer of these songs was a great deal of sadness, loneliness, heartbreak, and awkward isolation. But sharing them with a roomful of passionate fans transformed them into anthems of survival, unity, love, and strength.
The 1975 have a dedicated fan base, many of whom had camped for days outside the venue just so they could be right up front. They’ve reached every table in the high school lunch room, from the shy and bookish to the flamboyant theater kids to the jocks and the stoners and the outcasts—all were represented in the dancing mass of kids who’ve all found a bit of themselves in the music of the 1975.
A moving sidewalk at the front of the stage allowed Healy to glide effortlessly like a modern-day Jamiroquai as he shared his fractured past. After a glass of red wine was delivered to him on stage, he spilled a bit on his jacket and joked, "That's not going to come out, innit?" But he sounded sincere when he said, "We fucking love it here. We love the music that's come from here. We love the people that come from here." And that genuine love was definitely mutual.
The 1975's material often reflects on how the struggle between feelings of love and friendship is offset by desires to simply be alone and try and heal by yourself. "Give Yourself a Try" celebrates the self, while "Sincerity Is Scary," "It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)," and "I Couldn't Be More in Love" all capture the joy and heartbreak of sharing your heart unconditionally. While listening to some of these despondent songs on your own might be a melancholy experience, they take on a jubilant edge in a room filled with fans. As if we're all collectively saying we've all had our hearts broken and we're better off without them, now let's dance. And dance we did.
Distorted images were projected on the screens behind the band throughout the performance, as if representing once-important people and memories now fading from view, gracefully washed away from our thoughts by the spring rain. "This song is for you. All these songs are for you," Healy announced before an impassioned version of "Robbers." And clearly these songs have become a living, breathing part of the fans, who have been healed, seen, and nurtured by these anthems.
The 1975’s music draws from the last 50 years of British pop: Adam Hann's jangly guitar on "She Way Out" echoing decades of Manchester’s guitar heroes, the sultry pulse of "Fallingforyou" containing moody elements of Bristol's trip-hop scene, the shimmering '80s new wave of London's Haircut One Hundred recalled throughout.
"Modernity Has Failed Us" was projected boldly behind the band as they tore through "Love It If We Made It," which played out as resistance disco for the end of times. These kids are fed up with the world that we have left for them, and the track gave voice to the sense of survival and a desire for change that burns within them.
During the triumphant closing song, "The Sound," harsh phrases from critics were projected on the screens ("Is this a joke?" "Do people really still make music like this?"). It was a brilliant kiss-off to their detractors, because when 9,000 kids are jumping in time to your song, completely lost in the music, who really cares what the experts think anyway. That blissful moment is what matters and nothing else. That is what pop music is all about.
A note on the openers: No Rome and fellow Mancunians Pale Waves opened the show, their sets over in a total of 52 minutes. This night clearly belonged to the 1975. But Pale Waves’ goth-pop may have won over a new set of fans (especially since Matty Healy produced a few of their tracks). I've been a fan since their vibrant set at the Amsterdam back in November, and hopefully they return for a more intimate club show while their star continues to rise.
Give Yourself a Try
Sincerity Is Scary
It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)
A Change Of Heart
She Way Out
I Couldn't Be More in Love
Narcissist (with No Rome)
I Like America & America Likes Me
I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)
Love It If We Made It