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[Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes]

Review: The 1975 really are at their very best

Last week before the 1975 set out for the U.S. tour of their new record, Being Funny in a Foreign Language, frontman and known shitposter Matty Healy got emo online. He tweeted that he was “nervous” about the new show and wrote, “it’s super ambitious and different and i’m honestly so excited to be back in a room with you guys and the boys. thank you so much ily fr.” He also called himself “the worst” and replied to fans who made fun of him for being earnest, but that aside, Healy wasn’t exaggerating about how ambitious the Manchester band’s new slate of shows is.

Just as the title of the tour, The 1975 At Their Very Best, so blatantly suggests, the band may very well be at their very best. Touring the U.S. for the first time since 2019, the group’s new concert features their most elaborate set to date — trading in their minimalist backdrop of signature boxes for a two-tier setup that resembles what you might imagine their home studio looks like. And like the crux of BFIAFL is Healy wrestling with sincerity, their Nov. 7 Madison Square Garden date proved how this might be the live band at their most heartfelt, too. 

Read more: 10 best One Direction rock covers, from the 1975 to Wolf Alice

Make no mistake: That’s done in the most 1975 way possible, with the show featuring everything from Healy touching himself and taking bites of raw meat to playing clips of the memed-to-death Kamala Harris “We did it, Joe” video and even deriding conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. But it also means the band — who now have a decade worth of music and devout fans who’ve grown up with them — are at their very best when they tap into a whole gamut of unadulterated emotions that they’ve always known to bring out in their music.

Supported by Dirty Hit labelmates and Kansas City, Missouri-bred alt hip-hop upstarts BLACKSTARKIDS, the group brought a much-needed punkish energy to kick off the show. When it was time for ’75, the band slowly settled into the stage, and played the latest iteration of self-titled, with Healy thanking the crowd for “coming over.” The first third of the set featured tracks from the new release, beginning with jovial hits like “Looking For Somebody (To Love)” and “Happiness,” in which Healy flirted with guitarist Adam Hann by telling him to “play, baby.” They then went into an excellent rendition of their single “Part of the Band,” beginning with Healy looking dazed at a collection of static TV sets onstage. Throughout songs like “Oh Caroline,” “I’m In Love With You” and the somber “All I Need To Hear,” the frontman kept up the theatrics, stumbling and taking swigs from his flask, as if to indicate how self-destructive he can be, both in love and left to his own devices.

[Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes] [Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes]

After playing “Roadkill” from 2020’s Notes on a Conditional Form, Healy asked the crowd if they had been to more than one 1975 show in order to introduce one of their oldest songs, “Fallingforyou.” Dropping to his knees on the melodramatic lyric that was once reblogged to death on Tumblr, “I don’t wanna be your friend/I wanna kiss your neck,” it was as if the band leaned into bringing out the very teenaged emotions in the crowd that fans have connected with for so long — be those ceaselessly romantic, lustful or just plain horny. They continued tapping into those emotions as Healy climbed to the top of the roof of the set to sing the politically charged “I Like America & America Likes Me,” releasing a furiousness in himself that so many young people feel, too. Then “About You” was simply divine — the wistful song making you reflect on every heartbreak you’ve ever felt, like it had the ability to trigger a supercut of memories. The BFIAFL standout was just as stunning live as it is on the record, and the crowd was up for the task of singing Carly Holt’s featured verses word for word. 

[Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes] [Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes]

After playing “When We Are Together,” the band left the stage to make space for Healy to, well, Matty Healy the fuck out. He wrapped up the track saying, “Retrospectively, I think that’s more about my friends because friends leave, and I don’t know what to do. I just sit there and I wank, and I come and do this, and then I don’t really know how to do anything else — how to be a liberal man. What is a liberal man?” Launching into the already viral portion of the set, the showman got comfortable on the couch, took a long drag of a cigarette and shamelessly touched himself in front of thousands. (Later, he joked about it, saying, “I’m sorry if you came with your dad when I was touching my dick. It’s your fault for bringing your dad!”) But to somehow give the bit even more of an edge, Healy proceeded to do push-ups as figures like Mark Zuckerberg appeared on the onstage TVs and then took not one but two bites of raw meat. (Yes, you read that right!)

[Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes] [Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes]

As ridiculous as it may be, it was also brilliant, funny and what so many love about the 1975. With one T-bone steak, all of the questions about masculinity on the new release were brought to life. You simply have to hand it to Healy for making a statement about toxicity in front of nearly 30,000 so daringly. That unfiltered anger carried later into the set with their statement piece “Love It If We Made It,” too, with Healy introducing it by saying, “Remember in 2018 when we thought everything was really bad? I didn’t want to have to play this song in 2022. That was not the point of this song, but here we are.” Throughout, he carried an unbridled fervor, lying aching on the floor at one point.

Admitting to “having enough of the performance art,” it was as if the scale of playing MSG set in and the band were ready to end the night with a party, playing both hits on hits (“TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” “Me & You Together Song,” “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You),” “The Sound“) and beloved ballads (“Paris,” “Somebody Else,” “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)“). There was simply no denying what magnitude of feeling each of the tracks brought out in the crowd. But before closing out with “Sex” into “Give Yourself a Try,” “Robbers” was particularly touching. The performance mirrored the iconic music video, from the lighting and Healy’s unbuttoned shirt to the way he sang to guitarist Polly Money. Moments like this felt like a not-so-secret secret gift to longtime fans, as the band know how much they mean to their devotees — and it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed

[Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes] [Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes]

That’s the thing about the 1975: No matter how much Healy postulates about what it means to give into feelings and be a modern man, the band has ultimately always been more about the feelings it unleashes in its fans than anything else. Whether that’s carnal desire, debilitating heartbreak, ceaseless frustration, or a glimmer of optimism that the world must have the capacity to be a better place, they tap into emotions many of their fans who discovered them at 15, 16, or 17 felt then, and have held onto. Even still, their music is what has the power to unlock those strong reactions, like it’s the key to a girl’s diary. That’s certainly what radiated through MSG. 

At this point in their career, the 1975 are the most successful they’ve been and exist within a space few acts do. Not only have fans who discovered them on Tumblr or music blogs in the early 2010s stuck around, but their bold choices and Healy’s penchant for making a statement have made them the subject of fascination for artists and critics alike. (Take their afterparty, for instance, which was a wild event hosted by Dimes Square podcasters The Ion Pack and featured DJ sets from scene-y NYC indie acts like the Dare.) Healy cheekily commented on this at MSG, saying, “You know what the thing is with us? We just keep getting better, baby.” And it’s true. Everything that is so unabashedly 1975 feeds into their live act — the callbacks to their early work, the touching setlist, Healy’s ramblings, even the “wanking” and raw meat. All of it makes fans give into a whole spectrum of feeling; all of it is the 1975 at their very best.