w/ Pale Waves, No Rome
Ascend Amphitheater; Nashville, TN
May 15, 2019
It’s hard to imagine now, but when genre-bending British indie pop outfit The 1975 first played Nashville, in May of 2014, they were still a relatively niche, on-the-rise band, having only released their eponymous debut album a few months prior, and coming off of a couple years of building a cult following with a series of great early EPs. Initially scheduled for Exit/In (how cool would that have been?), the group were bumped up to Marathon Music Works thanks to their mounting hype, but still managed to stop by Grimey’s earlier in the day for a backyard performance. It was clear even then that the band, who’ve been playing together since their teens in the early ’00s under various names and incarnations, were destined for massive stardom, and by the time they returned to town in the fall of 2016, in support of that year’s radio friendly and dance pop infused sophomore LP I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It, selling out Municipal Auditorium, their magnetic appeal and meteoric rise was on full display.
For their third time in Nashville, in support of last year’s A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, and ahead of a forthcoming companion effort Notes on a Conditional Form, which, fitting, took place exactly five years to the day from their May 15 Music City debut in ’14, The 1975 returned as gargantuan an undeniable stars; somehow both beloved by a massive and fervent fanbase and a staple of alternative radio, and yet still seemingly underrated in the cultural conversation, an increasingly rare and earnest guitar band with pop leanings at odds with the direction of popular music in 2019. Selling out Ascend Amphitheater (we suspect they could’ve packed a much larger venue with ease), and with support from likeminded acts Pale Waves and No Rome, The 1975’s return was every bit the powerful, emotional, and triumphant affair we expected, impressively elevated beyond any show we’ve seen them play before, and, certainly a contender for one of the best we’ll see in town all year. Read on for our full review, and check out a full gallery of photos from the group’s transcendent Nashville return!
I’m not sure why I decided to try my luck driving to the show instead of ridesharing, but as I cruised around SoBro side streets looking for that increasingly rare Nashville street parking, I was struck by the massive and excited crowds of fans walking towards Ascend Amphitheater from every direction. And those were just the “late” arrivals showing up at the start; 1975 superfans are notorious for camping out hours if not days in advance, something I suspect carried over even in Nashville’s more reserved show-going climate. The venue was, of course, already packed, teeming with fans of all ages and walks of life (though the band’s young female following certainly make up a huge contingent), a particularly enthusiastic and sincerely excited crowd in a city where that’s not always a guarantee (I’m sure the audience had a healthy portion of out of towners; one group I spoke to nearby had come all the way from Florida).
No Rome. Photo by Andrew Ha.
Due to a mixup with my press credentials (a common and expected byproduct of the job), I was delayed getting into the venue, and since my aforementioned, ill-advised decision to drive and park left me little time to spare, it unfortunately meant that I missed all of opener No Rome. A Filipino born, London based labelmate of the 1975, I admittedly haven’t given his music as much attention as I should have, but even from a distance he sounded excellent, and perfectly in line with the synthy, poppy, modern, and earnest vibe of the evening’s headliners. I wondered if he’d include last year’s viral single “Narcissist,” a collab with The 1975, in his set, and, while it didn’t appear, it would show up later in the show (more on that below). I’m curious to see a proper No Rome show on my own in the future so I can share more thoughts, but at least our photographer made it in without a hitch for some killer shots of this outing!
Pale Waves. Photo by Andrew Ha.
With a swift and well-deserved career ascent the past couple of years that, in many ways, mirrors The 1975’s (they, too, are an impossibly cool indie act from Manchester who fuse ’80s appeal with modern, synthy stylings), Pale Waves are a group I’m equally as excited about for their effect on music and popular culture, finding a way into a more pop geared and manufactured mainstream musical landscape as a new guitar group with a fresh sound and broad appeal. I missed their intimate debut in Nashville last fall at Mercy Lounge, so I was thrilled to finally get a chance to see them on this tour. As expected, their set was lean, though over a mere six songs they hit on their best tunes like “Television Romance,” “Eighteen,” “The Tide,” and, of course, “There’s a Honey,” with frontperson Heather Baron-Gracie delivering a captivating and commanding performance, and channeling the Robert Smith-esque peak era of ’80s goth rock. Dreamy, moody, and retro without feeling like a nostalgia act, Pale Waves are a flawless and authentic callback to perhaps the greatest era of British music, a band with raw emotion wrapped in pop accessibility, proving style and substance can exist in equal measure without feeling artistically comprised. It’s no surprise to me that they’ve been gaining lots of attention stateside since the release of last year’s fantastic debut My Mind Makes Noises, and though The 1975 have toured with some great bands (including Nashville’s own COIN), Pale Waves are undoubtedly the most perfect match imaginable. The fans seemed to think so too, cheering and singing along with tons of enthusiasm, and, while the performance was entirely too short for my liking, it left me dying to see Pale Waves again for a full show in a smaller space.
The 1975. Photo by Andrew Ha.
The amphitheater was absolutely swelling with packed out and excited fans by the changeover before the night’s headliners, and it truly seemed like all of Nashville had made it out to the show; I couldn’t walk 10 feet without running into a familiar face in between acts. Before they even took the stage, the scale of The 1975’s production was clearly epic, with wrap around lighting structures, risers, and a new riff on their signature gigantic, rectangular lightning centerpiece, situated in front on a massive LED array. When I first saw the band five years ago, they were into muted, low, moody lightning and an all black and white aesthetic, graduating to splashes of bold pinks and teals and primary colors their second time around. For this tour, and, perhaps, larger artistic and aesthetic era in general, the band have settled on a brighter, bolder, and more vibrant look, with recent videos and promotional images taking on a crisper, dynamic, and cinematic palette, which, I rightfully assumed, carried over into the current look of their live show as well.
Immediately capturing my nostalgia for their debut, which, to this day, remains the record I most often return to, the band entered the stage to a recording of its opening track, which bears their name, before firmly asserting which chapter of their musical existence we’re in the midst of by launching into standout single “Give Yourself a Try.” I was instantly awestruck by just how huge it all felt, with stunning and gigantic lights and screens, backup singers and dancers, and a confidence and magnetism that far exceeded any other performance I’ve seen the band deliver (including for a festival crowd much larger than this). The 1975 have from the start been a larger-than-life band, and I feel like they’ve always known it, but now, with over half a decade of success and such an interesting and nuanced catalog, the promise of that stardom finally feels realized, or at least able to be translated to the sheer scale and artistic magnitude their vision warranted. Rarer still, they’ve managed to maintain what feels like a personal and intimate connection to their crowd no matter the size, transforming Ascend into what felt like a highly personal and deeply resonant musical connection and communal experience.
Singer Matty Healy is, of course, the group’s charismatic and creative linchpin, and has, over recent years, transformed from a brooding and enigmatic indie rock frontman to a true popstar, comfortable in commanding the stage, largely absent his guitar, and alternating between captivating, emotional to the point of tears, dance-inducing, confessional, angst-ridden, repentant, heartbroken, lovelorn, sexual, rallying, and humble, an artist capable of distilling his emotions and spilling them out with such passionate sincerity, that he’s singlehandedly managed to connect, inspire, console, and relate with legions of fans in a way that seems to transcend the band’s actual music. In an era with “rockstars” are definitely out of vogue, Healy has become whatever the equivalent of that would be for millennials and GenZ, an open-book, flawed, and authentic figure who happens to head up a band doing some seriously cool and uninhibited things in rock and pop, who only seem to get better and more creative with each release.
The 1975. Photo by Andrew Ha.
Performing for nearly two hours (I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen a band this relatively new play such a sprawling set), at least a third of The 1975’s show was dominated by cuts from A Brief Inquiry, with both hits and fan favorites from their other two LPs and older EPs rounding up out mix. Despite the steep stylistic jump between musical eras, it all still seemed to flow pretty organically, with soulful pop r&b tunes morphing into brooding indie rock jams before flipping to auto-tune and track heavy experimental pop. Their reluctance to conform to any one thing has certainly made the band’s show more and more interesting, and while some of the newer stuff felt like it left the rest of the group without as much to do, the instrumental work and array of synths always fused seamlessly with the more processed elements of the show, and even the auxiliary players were given some fantastic moments to shine, with long-running sax (and multi-instrumental) player John Waugh stepping into the spotlight for more than a few moody solos.
The stage itself was a marvelous sight to behold, transforming from huge swaths of light to backing images, recreating city blocks to overhead landscapes, flashing text at powerful moments, and enhancing the visual and aesthetic feel of the band’s body of work. Dancers and backing singers aren’t a common sight at an indie rock show, but The 1975 are hardly a common indie rock band, and twins Taitlyn and Kaylee Jaiy won me over as a great energetic counterbalance to Healy’s more subdued cool. Healy put in his work as well though, running around the stage, sliding across on a moving sidewalk type setup in the front, sipping on wine, encouraging audience participation, and, more than a few times, becoming emotional and confessional, musing about song inspiration and expressing gratitude (and even giving a shoutout to local iconic emo transplants Dashboard Confessional, who were in attendance).
It’s hard to even pinpoint highlights of the performance, as it felt like one gigantic greatest hits compilation, but the singalong moments were really wonderful, as were the more personal and understated tunes. About a third of the way in, the band welcomed No Rome back (I was thrilled to get to see him on stage!) to perform his tune “Narcissist,” which Healy features on, proving a really interesting duet dynamic live. One particular standout, if only because I wasn’t expected how powerful it’d be live, was “I Like America & America Likes Me,” a mumble rap-inspired anthem against American gun violence that the band introduced as “perhaps their saddest song,” which I’m impartial on in recording, but in person was delivered with such huge, fiery passion, yelled amidst a gigantic backdrop of its lyrics, as Healy feel to his knees- an example of how sometimes it takes seeing the intent of an ambitious song realized in concert to fully appreciate the subversive scope of that ambition.
Closing out the set a few songs later with their most Britpop tune, “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes),” the band returned for a super long encore, beginning with Healy alone on guitar for “Be My Mistake,” during which I’d never heard Ascend Amphitheater get so quiet, before a particularly powerful and urgently delivered rendition of “Love It If We Made It.” By throwback (and, for me, standout) tunes “Chocolate” and “Sex” and, of course, big singalong hit closer “The Sound,” it was more abundantly clear to me than ever that The 1975 are not just one of the best, but most important bands of their generation, uniquely able to craft resonant and popular music that they elevate even more in person. I’d long been looking forward to this show, but it was even more stunning and transformative than I even imagined, leaving everyone around me looking visibly stunned and euphoric at its power and scale. I have no doubt this band’s legacy will carry on for decades and decades, but despite how important this chapter of their being already feels, I suspect we’re in store for quite a few special years and boundary-pushing releases still to come, and I can’t wait to see where the The 1975’s art evolves next.
Give Yourself a Try
Sincerity Is Scary
It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)
A Change of Heart
She Way Out
I Couldn’t Be More in Love
Narcissist (No Rome cover)
If I Believe You
I Like America & America Likes Me
I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)
Be My Mistake
Love It If We Made It