The 1975 live at Laneway Sydney 2020: Overcoming illness to lead the pop revolution

The Domain, February 2, 2020

It was around this time, about 24 hours earlier, that The 1975 were meant to be kicking off their run as the headliners of Laneway Festival Australia for 2020. That, however, didn’t exactly go to plan.

The band’s Brisbane set was cancelled on the day due to an undisclosed illness affecting frontman Matt Healy. Naturally, the news sent the band’s diehard fans into a panic – some of whom were tailing the festival to see them on every single stop.

Even after their performance in Sydney was greenlit, there was every chance the plug could be pulled at any moment. One feared a repeat of the time when poor Andrew Haug had to go out and tell the 2013 Soundwave crowd Slayer would not be performing that afternoon.

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But soon after Charli XCX’s top-notch penultimate set, the festival’s main stage went dark and the words “GO DOWN/SOFT SOUND” appeared on the video screen. The shrieks that followed were nearly deafening – a pandemonium only the likes of Harry Styles or Justin Bieber can conjure. But make no mistake, this is the kind of power The 1975 hold over a captive audience, one that transcends rock bands and bolsters their status as fully fledged pop stars.

The 1975 Laneway Festival Sydney 2020
Credit: Liting Ng for NME.COM

Healy then wandered out on stage, pulling a Kurt Cobain in a hospital gown with a prop IV drip. As soon as he grabbed the mic and launched into the distorted screams of ‘People’, it was clear he was back at 100 percent. And even if he wasn’t, he so happened to have an eager choir spilling out across a field before his very eyes, singing the ensuing ‘Give Yourself A Try’ and ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ loud and proud from right on the barrier way back to the punters on one another’s shoulders. That was all within the first 10 minutes, too.

For those who missed out on seeing the band in action on their headlining tour back in September, that Sunday evening was a chance to bear witness to one of the most impressive pop shows currently on the road. At full strength, The 1975 ballooned to an eight-piece on-stage – the band, two session multi-instrumentalists and twin backup dancers. Everyone was working overtime in order to replicate the band’s ornate arrangements, while simultaneously establishing a live energy that justified leaving the house to experience the songs performed in the flesh.

The jazzy swing of ‘Sincerity Is Scary’ got even more of a boost by John Waugh’s free-wheeling saxophone, and the choreography Healy executed alongside the Jaiy twins for ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ served as both a loving tribute to Talking Heads’ ‘Stop Making Sense’ and as something uniquely and quintessentially 1975.

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The 1975 Laneway Festival Sydney 2020
Credit: Liting Ng for NME.COM

The set’s interlude featured a powerful speech from Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg, which will open the band’s fourth LP ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’. One by one, fists rose in solidarity with Thunberg’s words urging people to take action on climate change. Healy, who stood at the front of the stage as the speech played, eventually caught on and raised his own. It was one of the most genuinely touching moments of the entire day, and said a lot about the band’s values that they would cede nearly five minutes of a headlining festival set to such an important voice.

The race to the finish line of The 1975’s hour-long set picked up with a writhing, intense ‘Love It If We Made It’, backed up with a throwback to their debut album care of the boppy ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Sex’. The former marks the evolution in the band’s musical direction and political conviction, the latter stands in contrast to their fanciful twentysomething youth – even though, it must be said, both songs still hold up considerably well.

With one last burst of rain-soaked, leg-aching energy, we jumped as one to ‘The Sound’. It’s the only way that we could have sent a day like today out – unified, together, making noise and celebrating what we have. The 1975 are that band. They’re the ultimate soundtrack – and now, the perfect festival headliner.

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