5 Seconds of Summer: Heaven, London

SYDNEY’S GUITAR POPSTERS nakedly woo their young female fans but cut the flirting as they pitch for the crossover adult market.

“Seventy five per cent of our lives is [spent] proving we’re a real band. We don’t want to just be, like, for girls. We want to be for everyone,” said 5 Seconds of Summer drummer Ashton Irwin in 2015. His Sydney punkish-pop quartet were then basking in the afterglow of having sold out almost every date of a world tour; their second album had topped the US and UK charts, and Rolling Stone declared them “the world’s hottest band”. Like many a high-cheekboned hunk before him, Irwin yearned for the day when his group would shed the “boyband” albatross and the female fan-frenzy that goes with it.

That day might have arrived. With album three scheduled for a summer release, 5SOS (pronounced “five sauce”) are promoting it with a show in this 1,000-capacity nightclub. It’s been billed as an “intimate” one-off, but with their last four singles failing to reach the Top 20, it could also be, as Spinal Tap’s Ian Faith would put it, that their appeal has become more selective. A tour of larger venues will be announced next week, so 5SOS are far from over, but they could yet realise the (rather sexist) folly of wishing their fanbase weren’t primarily young girls.

Despite their tightness as a band — years of gigging have produced a crisp rock unit on a technical par with their influences Blink-182 and Green Day — it’s hard to see 5SOS achieving legitimacy among adult listeners. Though their biggest hits, ‘She Looks So Perfect’ and ‘She’s Kinda Hot’, perfectly capture the feeling of being young, awkward and dumbstruck around women, their compact poppiness makes music snobs sneer. There are almost no men here tonight, and the few who have turned up are drowned out by the shrieks that greet everything that happens on stage.

Moreover, in a strategy nakedly aimed at female fans, each member has a distinct identity. Singer Luke Hemmings is the alpha one, his billowing white shirt and finger-pointing mannerisms recalling Michael Hutchence; guitarist Michael Clifford, decked out in skater-boy finery, is sensitive; Irwin is Pottymouth Spice; and bassist Calum Hood the exuberant guy who plays his instrument slung low, like a rock god.

Yet they don’t pander. There’s no flirting with the crowd, no banter — not much of a show at all, in fact. Constrained by Heaven’s small stage, there’s room only for the four band members and a lighting rig that often turns them into silhouettes. And there they stand, amiably rocking out and occasionally hitting the sweet spot that suggests crossover appeal might yet be theirs. A new track called ‘Youngblood’, for instance, is a fabulous Neanderthal stomp, while recent single ‘Want You Back’ sticks like Maroon 5 velcro. The Vamps apart, guitar-playing boybands are rare these days, especially ones determined to get rocky or die trying: 5 Seconds of Summer’s ambition is admirable rather than laughable.

© Caroline SullivanThe Guardian, 6 April 2018

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