About halfway through The 1975’s sturdy, unflagging performance at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon, Matty Healy looked around at the massive light structures and the big LED screens that surrounded the band and expressed something close to amazement. “Can you believe they did all this just for us?” he asked, walking in a slightly staggering circle.
It was the kind of touch of practiced humility that so many pop fans have come to expect from the folks at the top of the marquee. They need to be gods at the same time they are “just like us!”
Healy, more than most, acted often like a mere mortal. His dance moves—if you could call them that—consisted of a lot of full body shakes and awkward hip cocking. He spent a good 40% of the set with his tag waggling out of his slightly downturned mouth. And even when he tried to take advantage of the bits of stage accoutrement set up for him, particularly a small moving walkway that ran the length of the lip of the stage, he approached it half-heartedly. Not indifferent, so much as not wanting the show to feel too prepared, too choreographed.
The 30-year-old left the tightly rehearsed aspects of the show up to the lighting designers and the rest of his marvelous band. While his mop of curls flopped alluringly atop his head, there was not a hair left out of place by any other element of the show. The set, naturally, relied heavily on the material from their most recent album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships as the band leaned into their adoration for the inspiration of world beat-inspired sophisti-pop acts like Aztec Camera and Go West, two reference points that are least twice the mean age of every Portlander in a “Poison Me Daddy” t-shirt.
Those were the songs that sounded best, as well. The quartet (augmented by an auxiliary multi-instrumentalists and two completely superfluous backup singers) dug their heels in on even the most feather-light tracks from the LP and reserved a little extra bit of energy for the absolute belter that were “Love It If We Made It” and “Sex,” moments that sent the crowd into paroxysms of bliss. As they delved into their back catalog, it sometimes felt like muscle memory was kicking in and they were hitting on autopilot. Did that matter to anyone but an aging critic whose graying beard looked entirely out of place amid the freshly-scrubbed 1975 enthusiasts? Not even a little bit. There was far too much volume and visual spectacle flashing around the boys onstage to bother with any deep analysis.
What they might have figured out is that much of The 1975’s catalog, as well-polished and impressively catchy as it still is, feels like Healy is pulling his creative punches. When he puts his whole self into a song, going into a full-throated roar, he is the equal of any rock titan of the last 30 years. It’s a sound that might not be able to sustain itself over the course of a full album, but it’s a talent could serve him well on future 1975 releases.
For the moment, Healy and co. have more far-flung interests than swerving into what might be expected of them. They have to mix their politics and their romance, their influences of the past and the present, and their seeming indifference with their absolute dedication.