By Olivia Isenhart
There’s a feeling that hasn’t been given a word yet, but this feeling is as big a part of the arena rock experience as huge sound systems, giant monitor screens and elaborate LED lights. It sneaks out of the shadows in stadiums, floating softly through quiet corridors and empty rows in the moments before they open the doors. It smells like fresh tour shirts, and the crisp 20-dollar bills that paid for them at the merch table. It tastes like smoke machines, sugar, and soda. And it looks like precisely the scene that unfolded at the 1975’s concert at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center last night (May 17) — kids forming their loyal ocean at the foot of the stage, stomping frantically onto the floorboards and snapping giddy photos in the smoke machine-created haze. It’s an exciting era for the band and the fans: although the 1975 packed an arena that has also hosted shows from the Rolling Stones to Jay Z to Justin Bieber, The 1975 still feels like the fans’ secret. But that won’t last for long, judging by their performance last night.
Barclays was filling up over an hour before The 1975 started, both due to the audience’s enthusiasm for the band, and for the opening acts on the bill. The mellow but interesting Japanese House — who would not have been out of place on the legendary label 4 AD’s roster in the ’90s — kicked things off. While their vibe was chill (and they’re not likely to get the radio play that the 1975 has enjoyed) many in the audience were clearly very into the band. The hype was heightened when fellow London act Wolf Alice took the stage. The four-piece garage punk band peeled off wicked riffs on songs including “Your Loves Whore,” “You’re A Germ,” and “Lisbon,” peering out from under their long hair to shred accordingly. As they raced from mellow verses into hard-hitting hooks, Wolf Alice won hearts with each heavy impact and hung onto them long afterward. They closed their brief set with “Moaning Lisa Smile.”
And then, the screams. They started well before The 1975 appeared. And they seemed to strike all at once, as if the whole crowd could suddenly sense something coming. Soon, the band slowly stepped out and strolled to their spots, still dark silhouettes as the dynamic stage morphed like a mood ring behind them. When the lights rushed on and the show kicked off, the cheers pierced the furthest corners of the arena, which felt surprisingly cozy for such a large hall. “Well, well, well. This is pretty f—ing good, isn’t it?” said Matt Healy coolly, leaning to catch a bouquet as the squeals swallowed his words.
The audience was so obsessed, they almost beat him to the lyrics as the 1975 launched into an irresistibly slick “Love Me,” and followed it with hits like “UGH!,” “Heart Out,” and “Loving Someone.” Healy was the epitome of a magnetic frontman; both awkward and poised, moving with a seductive mix of rigid thrusts and loose flips of his curls. Supercharged by guitarist Adam Hann and bassist Ross MacDonald, their sound cut through the fuzz of the spacious venue and brought the funk right to each empty seat – not that any tickets were unsold, it’s just that no one was sitting; they had the entire crowd on their feet. In their softer moments, often adorned by a sultry sax solo or a 6-piece choir, Healy was almost gone from the spotlight. Leaning back on a ledge to light up a cigarette, he smoked with the casual certainty of someone who knew he was in the process of seducing a new generation.
“We’re not massively all over magazines, we’re not massively over radio, so we’re very much a fan-generated band,” he pointed out, explaining that the band were grateful to be playing show of this size. The 1975 also urged the Barclays crowd to abandon their phones and “just be people,” rewarding their restraint with sexy songs like “Fallingforyou,” “Somebody Else,” and “Paris.” And the audience were “just people,” they were passionate and present. The show really felt like a FOMO-inspiring event. With a strong encore of “If I Believe You,” “Chocolate,” “The Sound,” and “Sex,” the Barclays Center was feeling the full weight of several thousand feet (spurred on, no doubt, by the band’s command to “one-two-f—ing-JUMP!”). With floorboards pounding to the 1975’s final notes, their fans kept catching each other’s eyes with the same knowing gaze – like they’d all experienced something special together.