IN BLUE BOILER suit and red Converse, like some hipster Winston Smith, Matty Healy appeared more 1984 than 1975 as he took the Hydro stage. It had been a good day for his band, nominated for best group and album Brit awards. Here now was a chance to discover whether all the fuss around A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is deserved.
For the first third things didn’t look – or, rather, sound – good. Drums too high, vocals low and mumbly, a dreadful mix meant that many of the subtle textures of their intricate art-pop were lost, but without any compensating intensity.
The staging, hailed as game-changing, was mostly meh. A re-creation of the effervescent video for ‘Sincerity Is Scary’felt flat; a screen showed New York brownstones, and Healy affected some dad-dancing on a travelator, but there was no attempt at the delightful choreography of the promo. The one true coup de théâtre – the frontman appearing to pass through a wall of static into the screen – was wasted on weak material, ‘The Ballad of Me and My Brain’, a song even worse than its title. Too often it was a show that would induce envy on Instagram while being there proved underwhelming. Happily, there were sufficient moments of deep pleasure to more than rescue the occasion.
‘A Change Of Heart’and ‘Paris’, ballads that could soundtrack a tender moment in a Molly Ringwald movie, were performed with a beautiful lightness of touch. For ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’, Healy’s voice was heavily Auto-Tuned, sharpening its glitchy desperation.
At their best, the 1975 combine the warmth and gloss of EDM-ish chart hits with the cold gleam of a previous generation’s synth artists. The Blue Nile’s ‘Downtown Lights’is a clear influence on ‘Love It If We Made It’, Healy’s one transcendentally good song, and it was gratifying to hear that Glasgow band’s spirit and sound honoured in their home town.
Performed as part of the encore, two tracks from the 1975’s debut showcased their range, from bright and catchy to widescreen angst: thus the evening, like all pleasant evenings, concluded with ‘Chocolate and Sex’.
© Peter Ross, The Times, 14 January 2019