Frontmen should be fun. Obnoxious, pretentious, eccentric… yes, all good words when it comes to the face of your favorite rock band. So when singer Matty Healy introduces the 1975 as “the greatest band on the planet,” or gnaws on a slab of raw meat or mimics masturbation more than once in one concert, at least he’s giving you something to talk about.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that over the last decade, the 1975 has been one of rock’s most consistent acts, and their live show has evolved into an impressive culmination of five strong records and a bevy of hits. Ripping through two dozen of their greatest songs and new album cuts, the 1975’s sold-out Madison Square Garden show on Monday was a captivating exposition from a band that embraces nearly every pop trope yet demands to be taken seriously.
In the first of two distinct acts, the group opened with seven consecutive tracks from their new album “Being Funny in a Foreign Language,” played almost exactly in the order on the record. Devoting the first 30 minutes of the show to music released less than a month ago is a decidedly bold choice, but most of the arena sang along faithfully to songs like “Oh Caroline” and “I’m in Love With You” as if they were worn-in favorites.
The retro flair of “Looking for Somebody (To Love)” and disco bliss of “Happiness” kicked the concert off with a punch, but it’s the new album’s slower moments that work best live. “When We Are Together,” an acoustic ballad that dubs Central Park “SeaWorld for trees,” was perfectly loose, and shoegazy slow-burner “About You” sounded monumental, spotlighting backup singer Polly Money and saxophonist John Waugh.
It’s worth noting that on this tour, Healy’s voice sounds stronger than ever. Meanwhile, bassist Ross MacDonald, drummer George Daniel and guitarist Adam Hann are steady and often stoic, serving as needed foils to the unpredictable frontman, who slinks around the stage, huffing on cigarettes and taking swigs from a flask.
Speaking of the stage, the 1975 transformed the Garden’s stage into an enormous deconstructed house, fully furnished with couches, lamps, bookcases and vintage televisions — lots of them. Healy delivered one song from the top of a spiral staircase and another atop the roof. The singer’s wandering around the set, lounging on the couch and sticking his head out of its fake windows, gave the show not only a vague narrative but also a more intimate, literally homey feel. The problem, however, with blocking the sides of the stage with walls and closed windows is that for a big chunk of the audience, the show was far better watched on the MSG jumbotrons than onstage.
Midway through the show, the band exited the stage as Healy sat down on the couch, put on an oxygen mask and rubbed his crotch. The singer then fell to his knees in front of one of the television sets, which broadcast shots of Ben Shapiro, Mark Zuckerberg, Kamala Harris, Bored Ape NFTs, Liz Truss, Vladimir Putin and Logan Paul. It got weirder, as Healy began chewing on a raw meat shank and doing push-ups until, finally, he climbed into the TV and disappeared.
Whether the interlude was pure nonsense or an avant-garde presentation of toxic masculinity seems irrelevant to even Healy himself, who went on to apologize for the “black pill performance art” and acknowledge that the show might be a “hard sell” to those who aren’t already big fans of the 1975.
Nonetheless, the band returned to the stage moments later in black suits and launched into an explosive “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know),” kicking off a second act full of the 1975’s greatest hits. There was “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You),” “Sex” and “Give Yourself a Try,” but, notably, no “Chocolate.” During “The Sound,” Healy enthusiastically commanded the Garden to “fucking jump,” and a huge percentage of the arena’s 20,000 audience members happily obliged.
The show was so tightly choreographed that even Healy’s usual between-song banter was limited, bar apologizing for “touching my dick” to fans who came with their parents, and proclaiming, “If I was Kanye, I wouldn’t have said any of that stuff.”
The disgraced rapper was evoked elsewhere in the show, too. His name was dropped in a “Love It If We Made It” lyric that references a Donald Trump tweet. His signature autotuned ranting style was emulated in a particularly charged version of “I Like America & America Likes Me,” which Healy delivered like a sermon, at least 30 feet above the crowd. And the dangerous effect of the rapper’s recent comments was displayed on the TVs, which showed footage of the neo-Nazis who hung antisemitic banners over L.A.’s 405 freeway last month.
But despite the vague political messaging and elaborate staging, the most exhilarating part of the show was the songs. Healy and Co. are no strangers to stunts, theatrics and moments designed for Twitter virality, but if there’s one thing the 1975 won’t let you forget, it’s that they’re one hell of a live band.
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