Bonnie Kemplay | The 1975

M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool

Thursday January 26th

Photography by Jordan Curtis Hughes

Willow Shields
Willow Shields

London’s least professional music photographer and journalist, can be found most evenings in your local small venue drinking vodka lemonades and being told secrets.

“This is sort of a greatest hits tour”

The last time we spoke, lovely reader, regarding this sphere, was when I relayed my thoughts on Matty Healy. Fan service, parasocial relationships, consent and trying to understand “The 1975 At Their Very Best” before even experiencing it once. Now I’ve seen the show twice, and I feel that maybe I have some inclination of what Matty Healy, The 1975 and their team were trying to do with this show. I’ve been lucky to experience the might, joy and sadness of “The 1975 At Their Very Best” twice, both totally different experiences and both mind bogglingly brilliant.

In this piece I’ll tell you about my experiences as if we’re two friends sitting across from one another at a coffee shop and catching up. I also want to preface this article and tell you that I am not smart, I may be witty and have some understanding of the greater world but I am by no means smart. This simply is a collection of my thoughts, feelings, musings and super biased information I’ve consumed via social media.

On Thursday the 12th of January, me and my friend Briony met outside the O2 Arena in Greenwich, London. The last time I had been there was to see the same band in 2016. Briony and I had been trying desperately to find tickets on resale sites for the prior two weeks or so, a few times we were so close to getting tickets we could almost feel it, to only feel defeat after they were taken away from our baskets. Just under a week before the show, we got two tickets through a friend. As we stood under a LED billboard opposite the North Greenwich train station, our disbelief that we’d actually made it was palpable. We kept saying to each other “I can’t believe we’re actually here” It was a full circle moment for me. Since last being there in 2016, I had been to hundreds of live shows, loved as many different bands, and managed to fall out and then back in love with The 1975.

That night Briony and I sang and danced our little hearts out at the back of the arena. I never ever go to arena shows – scared in crowds if you can believe. But the catharsis that I experienced was something I had never, ever imagined. When we walked through the doors and the arena opened up in front of us, with the iconic blue curtain masking the stage and The 1975 logo projected onto it, truthfully, I screamed. To be surrounded by so many people, mostly strangers, some friends and a couple of celebrities, who are all there because they love this band. It’s magical and I felt it coursing through my veins, the energy in that room. To be standing at the back of the stalls, opposite the band, thousands of people away, and experience almost a mirrored effect of what they do. That’s why they do it. It must be.

Something I’ve kept from you thus far, is that before the show, standing beneath that glowing billboard. My editor, the guy who runs things here at CLUNK; editor in chief Kieran Webber, called me. And told me that The 1975’s Press Assistant had reached out to him and asked ‘if the girl who wrote the article about Matty Healy kissing fans wants to go to the Liverpool show’. I almost threw up. I did cry. 

I spent the next 13 days coming to terms that little old me had been invited to my actual favourite band’s show. On a tour that a lot of other people had been invited to, but that I had never expected to be. I also spent that time trying to figure out who was going to come with me. In the end it was my mum, after many, many hours of asking and pleading. My mum had also been who took me to my first 1975 show, yet another full circle moment for me.

We drove to Liverpool on the 24th of January, me panicking and her asking to hear less of The 1975 in my playlist for the drive up. When we got to the hotel, the room was so cold we spent the next hour wrapped up in our duvets, and were almost late getting on our way to the M&S Bank Arena. After collecting our paper tickets from the box office (which have become a rarity nowadays so I will treasure them forever) we made our way through security and went to find our seats. As the arena opened up in front of me I had the same feeling as when walking into the O2, like I was boiling water in a kettle about to fizz over. We were directed to the seats and the usher of the section told us that we were in the seats he always picks for the shows he goes to there. We were in the seated block nearest to the stage, at the back of the first section, backing onto the (very forbidden to stand on unless you’re the support band) standing gallery. I couldn’t get over how close I was to the stage. I am a person who needs glasses to see things, I don’t wear them as often as I should, and I struggle making out details even going to the cinema. But for the first time ever at an arena show, I could actually see people’s faces on stage. 

Bonnie Kemplay and her band were an incredible asset to this tour. Her genuine and heartfelt stage presence is something that really struck a chord with me and I’m excited to see her again. I will say this though, it felt as if the stage was a bit too big for her. It felt as if her beautiful music and softness of tone was lost in a gigantic room of people talking over her. She is an amazing performer and her band are all incredibly talented. I suppose that’s what support bands sign up for with arena tours, but as someone who’s not used to it, I felt anxious and sad for her. I’d love to see her in a venue where everyone appreciates and knows her, and where her whole aura can be felt and admired. 

When the iconic blue curtain dropped the arena erupted with thousands of screams. The core band then entered onto set one by one (Matty Healy – frontman, guitar, piano, bi-annually cancelled, chaotic evil spirit, runner, humper and jumper. Adam Hann – lead guitar, keyboards, married to Carly from ‘About You’. Ross MacDonald – bass, keyboards, the only person to look good with a man bun. George Daniel – drums, keyboards, “controls the songs”, possibly engaged to Charli xcx, insanely talented producer.) If you, lovely reader, haven’t seen the set for “The 1975 At Their Very Best” yet, let me describe it for you. If you get bored there will be a picture somewhere below. It basically looks like a massive dollhouse. But if your dollhouse had working (and miced up) lights, a life size telephone pole out front, about 10 TVs, and was constantly being filmed and watched by thousands of people (maybe that’s trying to be a statement on society, I’ll let you make your own conclusions). 

I genuinely love the new album. “Being Funny In a Foreign Language” does genuinely feel like The 1975 “At Their Very Best”. From listening to The 1975’s most recent appearance on the Tape Notes podcast hosted by John Kennedy, who you may know from Radio X, it seems as if this album is a culmination of all of the bands songs they’ve always wanted to put together but never had the right project for. The intro track ‘The 1975‘, has taken many forms over every single record they’ve put out. Originally “a song about blowjobs” – Matty Healy, it has evolved to be the precursor to each studio album giving the listener a vibe check per se of what’s to come on the record. They changed the form of “The 1975” for their 2020 album ‘Notes On A Conditional Form’ where they had climate activist and winner of a Twitter war with former president Donald Trump, the icon Greta Thunberg speaking about the climate crisis and politics over a twinkly piano track. They decided to do something different again for this record, “The 1975” on BFIAFL is apparently a combination of an instrumental track fondly named ‘the anxiety musicand ‘it’s about time’ which was inspired by a Bjork interview where she speaks about personifying characters inside of a TV. The track gives me goosebumps on every single listen, the only thing I can liken hearing it live to is the scene in ratatouille when Remmy is tasting cheese and strawberries together and the screen goes black and fireworks erupt inside his head. For the live show it acted as a sort of sit-com esq introduction song, Matty sang at the piano center stage, cigarette in hand, while the “characters” (other band members) were arriving on stage and being introduced on screen (Polly Money – guitar, piano, backing vocals, stand in for Carly Holt in “About You”, John Waugh – Saxophone, backing vocals, Jamie Squire – piano, guitar, backing vocals, and Rebekah Rayner, percussion.)

The setlist of the show is an interesting one and it consists of three or four acts if you will (depending on the appearance of a special guest, previously including Taylor Swift, Charli xcx, Lewis Capaldi and Tim Healy to name a few). The first act being a ‘more structured’ play through of BFIAFL, with equally structured segments including being interrupted and reset as if it were a movie set, then Matty Healy addressing the audience through one of the hidden cameras on stage and stating something to the effect of “this is all very, very controlled”. Then commanding stop and everyone on stage stopping as if he just paused the telly. It’s almost as if he’s making a commentary that his life feels like a TV show and he feels as if he’s the only real person stuck in it. Something that I picked up on, which might be totally wrong, is that Matty Healy was repeatedly stressing that the show is all meticulously planned out, flat out telling the audience that everything is planned and controlled. And even when later in the show it seems as if he goes a bit off the rails and kisses people and ‘breaks out’ of the structured portion of the show, it’s still all been meticulously planned. 

The second act of the show is named “Consumption” and it’s the bit you’ve probably seen on Tik Tok. In Liverpool Matty Healy said “This next bit is about being a man or whatever”. It goes as follows; everyone leaves the stage one by one – except for Matty Healy – and he sits on the sofa at the front of the set. Smoking cigarettes, huffing oxygen (presumably) and unbuttoning his shirt, the fans go feral. He then eats raw steak, does about 10 push-ups and then crawls into one of the many TVs on stage. 

In the third act, the band all came back to stage dressed in black (opposed to the previous whites & beiges), Matty Healy addressed the audience directly saying “I can actually talk to you now!” and then began to charge through their greatest hits. For a tour as long and as widely observed as this, there were bound to be some running jokes. One of them is in the intro of ‘TOOTIMETOOTIME’, Matty Healy started to say random things into the auto-tuned mic. One of the most iconic and reposted versions of this was when someone threw a packet of menthol cigarettes onto the stage and Matty said “Don’t throw menthols on this stage, don’t like menthols” along with the beat drop. It was funny and they did variations of it for the whole tour, but I think that specifically the populararity of “Don’t like menthols” negatively impacted the show, it gave Matty a safety blanket that the crowd were sure to go wild for. So he did it time and time again saying things like “okay fine I’ll do the meme” and “I can’t do it you do it” with the crowd all singing “don’t like menthols.” For me, the joke became stale and quite boring after the first few weeks and when Matty Healy did it at the Liverpool – the last date in England after their huge stretch- I just sighed a rolled my eyess. I think the ‘tik tokification’ of the band and specifically this show has been the only major problem. With any internet craze it has its super high highs but then it’s devastatingly low lows, the band were hugely successful before blowing up on TikTok and will still be successful after they’re not big on TikTok. But I think the nature of the band feeds into the black & white view of most TikTok watchers, either they’re the best band in the world or they’re terrible people and they’re cancelled, with no in between. 

To reflect, The 1975 at Their Very Best in Liverpool was the very best I’ve seen them. The intricate stage design, the weird and wacky character development and its ability, as a show, to make you think about it afterwards. I found myself asking “what just happened?” Being able to see the whole set and observe the whole show from what felt like a scientific viewing platform or and operating room observation seat, the show itself felt more important. When I went to The O2 it was so fun and we danced and sang our hearts out but that was just us having a fun time. In Liverpool, I felt like a play was unraveling infront of me and all I could do was sit and watch. 

In the final act of the show, unobserved by the masses. Fans, haters, just people, stomped their way outside into the brisk Liverpudlian night. And as my mum and I stood outside M&S Bank Arena watching the hoards of people dressed in white shirts and black ties, my mum said to me very earnestly, “If you ever meet him tell him I’m worried about him.”