The 1975 coming to Syracuse was a big deal.
It’s rare to see an alternative act of this caliber booked to play a show at SU. Two Door Cinema Club and Twenty One Pilots were here years ago, but it was before their ascension to a beloved status worldwide. Tove Lo might have fallen into the category before she made the leap to full-blown pop star. BØRNS and Matt & Kim were fun last year, but neither are at the level of this month’s visitors from across the pond.
And so accommodations were made to suit the coming of The 1975. University Union brought back Rock The Dome, an event that disappeared after Ludacris and Rick Ross played it in 2012 (who knows what part of that bill constituted “rock,” but that’s besides the point). On Friday night, the big white bubble off I-81 became the destination for both on-campus rock fans and what seemed like a decent percentage of central New York’s tweenage girl population.
That’s because the band appeals to an interesting demographic. On one side, they’re a very good pop-rock band. Their 2013 self-titled debut has some wicked tracks like “Sex” and “The City” (see what I did there?), as well as the massive poppy hits, “Girls” and “Chocolate.” This years follow up, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, continued with funky tunes like “The Sound,” often presenting a spacey feel.
But then there’s the other side of The 1975. They’re an undeniably sexual bunch, and the kids love ‘em for it. Frontman Matthew Healy, or fondly referred to as Matty by the fans, has the British-est accent you’ve ever heard — and even better dance moves.
The result of this equation was the fan-base that turned out on Friday. Squeals filled every silence, and if my eyes didn’t deceive me a pair of underwear was hurled onto the stage. The fans were borderline rabid, and deservingly so — The 1975 put on one heck of a show. Healy has a nearly obnoxious but certainly confident stage-presence. The lighting was absurd in the best of ways, from their signature pink to the black and white that branded their self-titled era.
And sonically, the band matched the pleasing quality of their visuals. The range was very much there. They began with “Love Me,” the lead single from their sophomore effort. Its retro vibe lacks the darkness often found from the band’s older days, but it’s a fun song that was perfectly placed as the set’s first performance. After the forgettable “UGH!,” “Heart Out” introduced the Carrier Dome to John Waugh, the band’s always-smooth saxophonist. His appearances often elevated the set to a new level of musicianship. Wow, he was great.
After settling in with slow jam “A Change of Heart,” they moved on to a I like it personal-fav “This Must Be My Dream.” With even more sax action from Waugh and an alluring Healy v. backing vocals back-and-forth, the band was able to transport the crowd to — you guessed it — a dream state. They were left there during I like it’s most-dope instrumental title-track, and then awoken with a throwback songs “M.O.N.E.Y.” and “Undo.”
What followed was the highlight of the night. Healy took a break to address the crowd, and he didn’t hold back. Election day was approaching, and he didn’t want to see America make the same mistake his homeland made with Brexit (America did anyway). No video was allowed by the press, but a fan recorded most of the speech. Here’s the transcript of Healy’s message:
I’m a pop star. We don’t know anything; I can’t educate you on anything. What I can educate you on is the fact that we’re English. And I’ve been saying this a lot on this tour, that I know and we know what it’s like to come from a place that has politically and socially fucked everything up in one year. We’re alright, we just escape. But where we escaped to was even more fucking mental than we could imagine. And the thing is, right, all I’m saying is we’re teetering — and I say we because you’re America, the leaders of the free world — we’re gonna, we’re teetering on a very, very fucked up situation. And we all know that. And the fact of the matter is in England what happened was a younger generation, people our age and people and people like your age I can see stuff like that. People like us. — compassionate, young, liberal people — who don’t care about silly things like race or sexuality or anything like that, those kind of people expected. We expected the older generation to do the right thing and be compassionate and be like a proper good person and it didn’t happen. So everybody that didn’t vote felt like, and was, a fucking idiot. So what I’m saying is every single night we see thousands of young, compassionate, hopefully — I imagine — intelligent people. And the fact of the matter is we still have a chance, but you have to vote. Because if you don’t vote, you’re gonna feel like a fucking twat. I’m telling you. This song is about everything we should be standing for: loving people, social responsibility, being compassionate.
And so “Loving Someone” brought a passion to the building the night had been lacking. People cared, seemingly validating Healy’s inspirational speech. It was a beautiful sight that set the tone for the second half of the set. “She’s American,” a song fans speculate to be about Healy’s ex-boo Halsey, kept spirits high with its ticklish guitar licks. And then “Lostmyhead,” another mainly instrumental one, really showed that this crew can be more than their pop-rock hits.
Current single “Somebody Else” was up next. It’s a pulsating song that, at least for me, never really hits its stride. It lulls me to a bore and never really pulls me out. Which is fine, since it’s still wracking up the streams on Spotify without me. Plus, I like it’s catchiest — “Paris” — came next, before early hits “Girls” and “Sex” closed the pre-encore set.
The shrieks returned after the lights went dark, calling to the band for more. Of course, this was all part of going through the motions, and Healy and his mates came back for four more. “Medicine” and the gospel-infused “If I Believe You” satisfied the crowd’s appetite for a little bit more before they were stuffed with “Chocolate.” Yes, the band’s biggest song by far — an alt-pop tune at its finest — finally played through the sound system. They rode the high right into the night’s final tune, I like it banger “The Sound.” Healy got the kids jumping, and that was it.
Expectations were exceeded, which was especially encouraging since the night had started off quite alarmingly. New Jersey rapper 070 Shake struggled to command attention from a scattered and relatively empty floor crowd. Her song “Bass for My Thoughts” was cringe-worthy without the aid of auto-tune. She couldn’t quite match up with the voice track accompanying her live vocals. I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I’m not a rap guy at my core, but I saw no reason why she was touring with The 1975. There didn’t seem to be much crossover between her style and what most fans of the band are drawn to. On the bright side, she has some decent flow at times and had a great message of not worrying about what anyone else thinks of you. So on that note, if you’re reading this, 070 Shake, disregard everything I’ve written and keep doing you.
Any fears of the night being a bust quickly dissolved when the next opening act, Britain’s pop duo Oh Wonder, hit the stage. They brought a minimalist approach, with only big “OW” letters at the back of the stage accompanying their electro sound. Any more fanfare wasn’t really necessary, as Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht supplied a soothing ten-song set to get things warmed up. They matched well with The 1975 crowd, and really that’s all you can ask for in an opener. To tell you how I really feel, I’d even pay to see Oh Wonder headline. They were solid, playing most of their only studio album. Highlights included “Livewire,” “Drive” and “All We Do” — a song they said is all about the importance of believing in yourself.
But in the end, no matter how good Oh Wonder was, the night belonged to The 1975. I came in hoping to figure out who they really are: a well-branded boy-band with instruments or pop-rock icons who deserve every ounce of the spotlight they’ve garnered. The latter opinion is what I took with me when I emerged from the Dome. The 1975 had properly rocked it.