Despite all the sheen and polish of their modern-day pop guise, there’s always been an element of edge to The 1975. Whether it’s the raw, emo-tinged vocal of frontman Matty Healy, the piercing guitars of Adam Hann, or the snap-crack snare of drummer and production whizz George Daniel, they’ve retained the energy of their younger days through number one records and festival headline slots. Back on the site of their first ever London show (“I’m gonna call you Barfly, only cause of memories,” Matty declares, referencing the venue’s recent rebrand), The 1975 prove that – while they might be arena-filling pop prodigies these days – they’ve still got all the fire of their pop-punk beginnings.
The 1975 last trod these boards six years ago, back when they were little more than a cult prospect with lofty (and divisive) ambitions. Now, with the recently-released ‘A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships’, they’ve come good on all that promise. It’s that same LP which opens proceedings this evening, in front of an audience of just 200 of their most frequent listeners on Spotify Premium. “We’re The 1975 from Manchesterrrr,” Matty grins, before launching straight into ‘Give Yourself A Try’, and dancing like a waving-arm-tube-man in a hurricane. The group then charge through ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’, Matty calling out by name those in the front rows who starred in its video, while ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ and ‘Sincerity Is Scary’ make the venue shake.
From there, they dive into the past. ‘You’ thrives in this most intimate of settings, its defiant, post-breakup sentiment feeling closer to home when you can see the whites of the band’s eyes. Tellingly – and perhaps as a nod to their past appearance here – it’s their self-titled debut that gets the most outings this evening. Only ‘The Sound’ and ‘Somebody Else’ are lifted from ‘I like it when you sleep…’, while the band charge on through the more rough-around-the-edges material of their earliest days, ‘Chocolate’, ‘Girls’ and ‘Sex’ sending limbs akimbo.
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The polish is stripped right back this evening. Matty accidentally sends his mic flying out of the stand mere seconds into ‘Love It If We Made It’, there’s awkward pauses for the band to tune up (there’s literally no room for guitar techs, after all), and there are numerous calls for people to take a step back and allow those in the front some breathing space. “There’s no barrier,” Matty explains, “so they’re going to get very bruised thighs.”
It’s the show’s end that provides the headline-worthy moment, though. A disgruntled looking Matty walks to the side of the stage after ‘Robbers’, clearly unsatisfied with the ceremony of the ending. Air-guitarring to a stagehand, he’s handed an acoustic. “Let’s have a proper, intimate moment,” he says, “Because that’s what this whole thing is about.” Explaining that he’s battling against their own technical limitations, and they “don’t have the ability to plug another guitar in”, he calls for total silence in the venue. “It’s not that I want to do it, because actually the idea’s making me feel sick, now,” he adds, “but it just feels slightly incomplete.”
‘A Brief Inquiry…’ cut ‘Be My Mistake’ is then performed to a totally hushed venue, completely unplugged and acoustic. It’s a beautiful and fitting end to a show that’s connected the past and present of The 1975 – a scatty, punk-y, oh-so-real return from one of pop music’s most brilliant bands. It might be the other end of the venue-size spectrum, but that January arena tour just got even more unmissable.