October 04, 2013

The 1975: All Hail the Rectangle (A Tribute in Black and White)

The 1975’s frontman, Matthew Healy, performing at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire with drummer George Daniel 
             I regret to inform you that I might have attended my last gig for The 1975 for a while. I probably shouldn’t even coin the term “gig” anymore, because The 1975 have well and truly transitioned to playing sold-out concerts. I have tracked my journey with them religiously on this blog. Albeit, I had not started this blog when I attended my first gig of theirs at Camden Barfly, but my second gig experience can be found here and my third hereThat makes this post a celebration of my fourth at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on September 20th. 

             Do not take my resignation from seeing The 1975 perform live as a newly developed aversion to their sound; quite the contrary! I am just not a big fan of pushy, obnoxious crowds and lightweight drunk teenagers that seem to frequent the shows. When you have experienced a band on such an intimate basis in a room full of attentive listeners, like I have with The 1975, some of the magic and innocence is stripped away as a result when you see them on a grander scale. Nothing will ever compare to the early days of The 1975 and the interaction with and close proximity to band members Matthew Healy, Adam Hann, George Daniel, and Ross MacDonald, but I couldn’t think of a band more worthy of the success.

The 1975’s bassist, Ross MacDonald
             The 1975 released their flawless (and I do mean flawless) debut album, The 1975, on September 2nd and they are quickly becoming a household name. I can hardly visit a tube station that doesn’t have posters plastered of their album artwork or turn on the television without seeing someone grilling Healy for the origin of the band’s name for the umpteenth time. The public has been immensely receptive of The 1975’s sound and understandably so. In embracing a mishmash of genres, The 1975 caters to everyone’s musical tastes. I often spend my mornings in my flat bopping around with my breakfast and belting out lyrics to their songs. This only continues on throughout the day as I make the commute to and from university and when I fall asleep at night.

The 1975’s guitarist, Adam Hann
             The O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire had already generated a large line of eager patrons when I arrived and we were either ushered into the designated stalls or seated areas. I personally chose to subject myself to the stalls and fourth row from the front is not a bad placement at all. If only I were a couple of inches taller, then it would have been ideal. The 1975 were accompanied by special guests, MMX and Night Engine, and I will openly admit that I am typically not a fan of opening acts. That is why MMX pleasantly surprised me.

             Originally known as the band Francesqa, MMX broke up and reformed under their new name. The band consists of members Ashley Wilkie, Warren Senior, Ben Hordos, and Tom Millar, and what a gifted bunch they are. From the outset, Wilkie’s croons were enough to have me transfixed as he caressed the microphone with fervor and intensity. Thudding beats and streamlined vocals from the broody and sleek-haired Wilkie form the basis for MMX’s sound. Not only did the quartet rejuvenate my faith in opening acts, but their two EPs, Child and Heir, have been on incessant repeat on my iPod ever since the show.

MMX’s lead singer, Ashley Wilkie, exuding unique stage presence during the opening act
             Wilkie interchanged from suggestive slurs to provocative pleas in his lyrics and his mannerisms oozed hedonism in the best possible use of the word. As an audience member, I felt as if I was overstepping into his private world with the hypnotic jutting of his head and the way he forlornly placed his arm over the microphone to obscure his face. Wilkie was a guilty pleasure to watch, and to be quite frank, I don’t think he realized the full extent of his rugged charm on the audience. In MMX’s song, “Tremor,” Wilkie laments, “I’m so sorry that I made you suffer,” but in my eyes, all MMX had to apologize for was the suffering I was about to endure after their set ended. 

             Nothing could have prepared me for Night Engine, although in hindsight, anyone following MMX would have paled in comparison. Formed in 2012, the band is fairly new on the scene and I actually couldn’t even track down the last names of members Phil, Dom, Ed, and Lee. Frontman Phil had what could only be described as a jarring stage presence, which was highly distracting from Night Engine’s overall delivery. While Phil’s vocals have been likened to David Bowie, and admittedly there is a disco-dance vibe resemblance, that is where the similarities should end. 

             I am not one to bash upcoming talent, but when a band sounds much better on an MP3 file than live, surely something is not adding up. Everything about the band seemed disjointed, from the folksy garb of suspenders and pressed shirts to the very odd facial expressions and screeches. I couldn’t make out the lyrics most of the time and there seemed to be a general consensus from the crowd’s restlessness that we were ready for The 1975 to show Night Engine how it’s really done.

             One perk of The 1975’s growing fame is that it provides room for a lot of growth in projecting the band’s image and refining their stage style. A large glowing rectangle, The 1975’s chosen geometric mascot, was indicative of this new showmanship. Centered in the middle of the stage, it was omnipresent during the entire show and sparked the perfect balance between simplicity and flashiness. Star of the show, Healy, sauntered on stage cradling a wine bottle and wearing a leather jacket like he was doing it a favor.

             The crowd went wild, and before long, I could hear the drone of the audience’s singing voices much more clearly than I could even hear Healy’s! It was so satisfying to hear The 1975 play songs taken from their newly released album and to shout, “Why you talk so loud?” right back at Healy during the song “Talk!” The band actually performed some songs that I had never heard them play at shows previously, such as the tender “fallingforyou,” from their IVEP. We had to brace ourselves (learned from previous experience) during catchy anthem and chart topper, “Chocolate,” which had everyone jumping up and down in waves that rippled the crowd.

             While that is all good-natured fun, some people get unnecessarily aggressive and start ruining the experience by their need to let off steam in the form of shoving and slamming into others. Several members of the crowd tried desperate attempts to catch Healy’s attention by shouting out to him. While I know he is a rock star, he’s still a person, and shouldn’t have to be subjected to these distracting acts of disrespect that take away from the show itself. I prefer not to dwell on those negative aspects however, because The 1975 are a more than phenomenal live act. In my opinion, their album only begins to scratch the surface of their talent and that is evidence of a truly gifted group of musicians.

             Healy seemed genuinely choked up to play the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire and, as always, was still the living example of playing for the sake of the music that most artists often lose sight of. I sang my little “Heart Out” while The 1975 stole mine even more than ever before. Their synth, their sex appeal, their songs all culminate to produce a band that is here to stay.

             The audience was still ravenous after The 1975 completed their set and the band burst on stage like they had been expecting our chants to call them back. The song “Sex” drove the encore and it couldn’t have been a more perfect ending to an already triumphant show. As the band members exited, all that was left was the looming rectangle, still standing as idol, savior. The 1975 have reclaimed the rectangle for their own, making it a thing of worship for devoted followers to bow down to and hail divine. They have certainly made a convert out of me and I reckon it will only be a matter of time before they indoctrinate you too.

             View The 1975’s website here, discover MMX here, and Night Engine here.  

Reminiscing: With Healy at Barfly in December 2012 (left) and The Borderline in February 2013 (right)

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