“You have been watching The 1975 at their very best,” comes the farewell from Matty Healy as the band conclude the first night of their UK headline tour on a rainy Sunday evening in Brighton.
Glowing self-assessments like these may be expected from the famously outspoken frontman, but here is a rare instance where it feels like Healy might actually be failing to do justice to the two-hour show they’ve just delivered. With a sprawling and ambitious production that rivals that of a top theatre show, this is a gig that rips up the rulebook for arena tours and makes you wonder why other acts don’t dare to broaden their creative horizons. To call it a game-changer would be an understatement.
It’s evident from the moment the curtain drops and the audience are presented with a sprawling set comprised of a house across two floors, which each member duly enters individually – accompanied by their own title card flashing up onscreen. It cleverly gives the cosy feel of a domestic family sitcom from the ’90s, even if that illusion is shattered by Healy’s increasingly bizarre and mesmerising antics over the following two hours.
Yes, this means that he eats raw steak at one point (a moment that went viral online after being debuted during the band’s US tour), while at others he pretends to masturbate and delivers 20 press-ups in immediate succession. In fairness, it makes more sense within the context of the show, with Healy delivering a subversive and surreal take on modern masculinity. When viewed in isolation on social media, that all-importance nuance is entirely absent.
This is barely scratching the surface of the show, however, and there’s plenty of other small touches – including dystopian nods to Prince Andrew, Vladimir Putin and Andrew Tate. We’re loath to spoil for fans coming to any other of the tour dates – just know that you’ll barely be able to peel your eyes away from the stage.
Still, it’s the perfect setting for the band to showcase Being Funny in a Foreign Language during the first half of the show. The symphonic strings of ‘Part Of The Band’ allow it to become one of the night’s true highlights, while the doomed romance of ‘When We Are Together’ proves an emotional and heart-rending end to the first portion.
When the second half, titled At Their Very Best, does arrive, so does the hits. Healy transforms into a classic rock showman from the moment it opens with ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’. It is far lighter than the first half, but this goes far in showing the group’s musical versatility, as well as that of Healy as a truly great frontman who can effortlessly tackle the light and dark of music.
A late run-through of early 1975 track ‘Robbers’ sees Healy leaving the stage to kiss a fan (no doubt reigniting the debate about similar actions on the US tour), while the room feels fit to burst with sheer energy by the time the group conclude with the glitch-pop of ‘Give Yourself A Try’.
We’re a mere nine days into 2023, but Healy and co. have set an extremely high bar for other gigs this year. Part performance art, part rock show, all bolstered by some of the best pop songs to have emerged in the last decade. It should be considered a defining blueprint on how to do arena shows.