In the hours ahead of The 1975’s Dublin concert, at 3Arena, speculation swirls about potential guest performers. Might Bono put in an appearance? Niall Horan? Daniel O’Donnell? The possibilities are endless – the group have already welcomed Taylor Swift, Lewis Capaldi and Charli XCX for surprise cameos on this tour.
Alas, Swift has stayed at home to watch Dancing with the Stars, so Dublin misses out on a starry surprise. Still, it is a mark of The 1975’s confidence that they have been willing to cede the spotlight to bigger names. They’re entirely comfortable with their party being crashed.
[ The 1975’s Matty Healy: Reluctant spokesman for a generation ]
But then lack of self-belief has never been an issue for a band built in the larking image of Matty Healy. The cheeky Cheshire singer is both a throwback and an entirely modern pop star. With big hair, big mouth and big ego, he is at one level in the tradition of Pete Doherty and Liam Gallagher. That strut coexists, however, with a vulnerable streak unthinkable in a frontman of his stature a generation ago.
“I’m feelin’ apathetic after scrolling through hell,” he warbles on the song with which The 1975 open (also called The 1975 and indebted to All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem). He sings the line slumped at a piano decorated to look like a desk.
The concept underpinning this exhilarating gig is that performance can be simultaneously fake and sincere. Underlining that message, the band are arranged on a stage done up like a suburban house from Coronation Street (a soap opera with which Healy will be familiar, his mother, Denise Welch, having graced Weatherfield for many years).
The concert begins with the band members shuffling on from the wings. Then Healy springs up: he was stretched on the sofa all along. Later he jumps on to the “roof” and warbles through a vocoder.
It’s not quite U2 trapped in a giant lemon or Mötley Crüe flying overhead on wires. But then The 1975 like to draw attention to their discomfort with the trappings of success. Musically, they shrink from the machismo of rock.
Healy goes overboard trying to forge a connection with the audience that goes beyond histrionics and crotch-shaking. He’s become rather notorious on this tour for pushing that message. Stunts have included kissing audience members and nibbling raw meat (disgusting, but better than the other way around).
Healy lives up to his reputation for extravagant gobbiness at 3Arena. “Is that an Irish thing?” he says in response to a chorus of olé, olé, olé. “You are a simple people. You’re easily pleased – that’s good to know.” Nobody is offended, though who knows what will happen when social media weighs in. (He later says all his grandparents are Irish.)
Healy goes on to acknowledge a 12-year-old rocking out near the front. “Look at the power I have over the young generation – it scares me,” he jokes.
He grows more fraught as the evening pushes on, a rock god with a thorn in his side. “The Sun are going to run a story about me being a Nazi tomorrow,” Healy finally reveals, referring to a fake scandal pinging around Twitter. He sounds exasperated.
[ The 1975: Being Funny in a Foreign Language — Laughably pretentious rehash, with extra cheese ]
Yet, while they wear their hearts on their sleeves, The 1975 also are chart-toppers who know how to hold an arena in their thrall. And so their tour has something for fans recent and veteran.
The first half of the night is given over to their new album, Being Funny in a Foreign Language. This is followed by an intermission during which Healy whips off his top and chomps on a side of beef.
Then comes a greatest-hits set that reminds us that, the less they try to be a rock band, the better The 1975 sound. (It is clear they unironically adore Sussudio by Phil Collins.) Healy delivers decent boy-band pop with It’s Not Living (If It’s Not with You) and plunges into cocktail-lounge angst on Somebody Else.
They finish with Give Yourself a Try. The riff is microwaved Joy Division. The vocals are Harry Styles meets Dermot Kennedy. Something old, something new. It’s The 1975 in a natty nutshell.