The 1975 - Live Review - The O2 Arena, London

The 1975 - Live Review - The O2 Arena, London

by Mils / Jan 14, 2023 / 0 comments
Thursday, 12 January 2023

The 1975 support their most focused album yet with their most ambitious stage show to date. Even a surprise appearance by Taylor Swift can’t eclipse the sensory-overload spectacle they’ve created.

To the strains of Mahler’s Adagietto, Matty Healy has just felt himself up on a couch, taken at least two bites of a raw slab of meat, done shirtless push-ups in front of a wall of ’60s TV sets, and climbed right into one of those flickering screens.

Where does one go from there?

If you’re The 1975, playing London’s O2 Arena for the first time in almost three years, you bring on Taylor Swift to play a couple of songs. As every mobile in the building goes up, amid seemingly uncontrollable screams of “Ohmygod!” (or variations thereof), she sashays through the elaborate stage set, pausing to sip a cocktail before strapping on an acoustic guitar. As the sounds of euphoria continue to echo around the arena, she leads the audience through a singalong, unplugged renditions of recent single Anti‐Hero (“It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me”) and The 1975’s The City. And, just like that, she’s gone, like some fleeting did-that-really-just-happen? fever dream.

The 1975: The O2 Arena, London – live reviewThat the superstar (who single-handedly brought Ticketmaster’s infrastructure to its knees) doesn’t eclipse the rest of the night is testament to the spectacle Healy and the band have created. Part West End show, part rock opera, part TV dramedy, it all begins with an almost complete, almost sequential run through of their latest album, Being Funny In A Foreign Language. A typically self-referencing, self-aware meditation on isolation, self-medication, masturbation, toxic masculinity, reality, celebrity, identity, being Matty Healy, and the need for human connection, the LP comes to life in an equally ambitious, equally overstuffed stage production.

Inside a full-size house, complete with a spiral staircase and plenty of TVs, Healy plays a hard-drinking rockstar, staggering from room to room, instrument to instrument, mood to mood. He sits down at a piano for reflective opener The 1975, puffing on the first of many cigarettes, laying out the next two hours with lines like “I’m feelin’ apathetic after scrolling through hell/ I think I’ve got a boner, but I can’t really tell”. He reclines on a chair, feet up on a coffee table, swigging from a bottle of wine during the musically radiant Happiness. He stares at a TV, showing live images of himself staring at a TV, singing the lines “Am I ironically woke? The butt of my joke?/ Or am I just some post-coke, average, skinny bloke/ Calling his ego imagination?”. He looks out of a window, pensively, smoking. He kneels under a streetlight. He teeters on the house’s roof for I Like America & America Likes Me, from 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Events, the autotuned vocal stripping none of the humanity from words like “I’m scared of dying” and “Would you please listen?”.

The 1975: The O2 Arena, London – live reviewIt’s all tightly choreographed with Healy, especially, playing to the cameras that not only capture his performance for the big screens but add another meta layer or two or three. When he “fluffs” a line in a monologue about method-acting, the screens cut to the camera lens being cleaned while the crew reset the scene; every time a new musician appears on stage, their onscreen close-up is accompanied by their name as per the opening credits of a television series.

That astonishing attention to detail bleeds into every aspect of the show, from the cheesy ’80s music video trope of the silhouetted saxophone player during his solo on Happiness to the visual references from the band’s past: the glowing door frame, the house from the Fallingforyou single artwork. There are even minutiae for the internet to pore over, from music video props and an E.T. souvenir cup to genuine family photos and a bookshelf packed with lyric books for each song in the set.

There’s a lot to take in.

But focus comes from the self-contained setting and the musical cohesion of Being Funny In A Foreign Language. While its two immediate predecessors jumped genres like a teenager’s TikTok music feed, the 1975’s fifth album is sonically streamlined guitar-based stadium rock performed with all the vigour and intensity every gig deserves.

That intensity only grows during the second half of the show, post-Taylor, billed as The 1975 At Their Very Best. A spectacular greatest hits set, as the name implies, it’s a lot looser. But, unexpectedly, it’s not entirely without concept. Healy’s no longer playing the rockstar. He is the rockstar. There’s no other way he can so fully and unironically embrace the conventions of an arena show.

The 1975: The O2 Arena, London – live reviewSeemingly channelling the likes of Bono or Brandon Flowers, he welcomes The O2 to the “last rock ‘n roll show in town” before leaning into crowd work clichés like having the audience vote between two songs with their cheers; dividing the arena into sections to see which can sing the loudest; inciting everybody to jump up and down in unison; and even lying down, head in palm, to serenade the front row.

But the Greatest Showman persona is frequently undermined. Early on, he self-deprecatingly declares: “It’s been 10 years and we’re only just getting good.” While mugging for the camera in the photo pit, he gestures to the cameraman to film bass player Ross MacDonald instead. During Chocolate he quips “What does that even mean?” in response to one of his own lyrics. A raggedly intense Sex is introduced by pointing out how, in 2013, it was perfectly OK to write a song about luring a woman into a van. He quickly undercuts a “We do it for you” dedication to the fans with a cheeky “That’s not true.” There’s no traditional snogging of an audience member tonight. (“I’m not kissing anyone in front of Taylor Swift.”) And there’s simply no hiding his disgust as he slams the Tories for using the current strikes to demonise trade unions before launching into Love It If We Made It.

The 1975: The O2 Arena, London – live reviewPerformed with powerful desperation tonight (“We’re just left to decay, modernity has failed us”) it’s one of many standouts in a show that emphasises big themes, big emotions, and big songs. A surprisingly gritty Give Yourself A Try, which ends the show with more guitar distortion and feedback than one might expect, is another.

And whatever your personal musical preferences, there’s nothing quite as glorious as hearing impossibly perfect pop songs like It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You), The Sound, I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes), and Robbers perfectly performed by Healy, the band, and 16 000 voices. For all the high concepts of this immaculately crafted show, it’s Swift who best sums up the experience. “Are you having a nice Thursday night?” she asks, to deafening cheers. “Same.”

Her simple reply makes that human connection we’re all after.

Rating out of 11: