Tom Waits once said: "This whole division between genres has more to do with marketing than anything else. It's terrible for the culture of music. Like anything that is purely economic, it ignores the most important component."
Progress. The “important component” the venerable Waits was referring to in the above quote is progress.
Sly and the Family Stone was a “funk” outfit, but they also infused elements of psychedelic and acid rock, and this had a profound influence on soul, R&B and hip-hop. Black Flag was a “hardcore punk” band, but the Black Sabbath influence on My War made way for this sludgy, low-tempo punk sound that gave a blueprint to bands like Nirvana.
Musical styles are much more fluid and malleable, and seldom do artists that consciously try to meet all earmarks of a “genre” actually leave behind any semblance of a legacy. Having longevity as a musician means putting your own spin on something and opening up a new world of possibilities for other artists.
And this brings us to The 1975.
The English rock outfit played The Theatre at Grand Prairie on Wednesday night for an event titled “ALT 103.7 Presents: ALTerium,” so anyone unfamiliar with the band can readily deduce that they get frequently bestowed the label “alternative rock.” They also get labeled “indie pop,” “synthpop” and “electropop.”
These are valid labels for the band’s musical style, but The 1975 are far too versatile to just be pigeonholed. The band took the stage at around 9:15 p.m. and kicked off with “People,” a rather polarizing single that found the band channeling the post-hardcore sensibilities of Refused. They immediately followed this abrasive number with the far more pristine “Give Yourself a Try,” which sounded just like your run-of-the-mill guitar-driven pop.
The contrast was stark, but it was a testament to just how frequently the band reinvents itself. There were times throughout the set when it felt like they experimented with a new genre as a means of seeing what could stick, but for the most part, they took on a wide palette of styles from the ’80s. Many of the backing instrumentals used throughout the set recalled the electronic-disco style of Giorgio Moroder, and the song “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” took on a new-wave influence, with an intro sounding a bit like The Cars. Tracks like “fallingforyou” and “Me” had an apparent post-punk influence, and even at these dark, bass-driven points did the occasional sax solo come out of nowhere.
The stylistic variation was, for the most part, satisfying, and The 1975 clearly make this style their own. Still, there were moments when the band sounded a bit too saccharine. Toward the end of the set, they played the song “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes),” an acoustic ballad that, from a purely instrumental perspective, sounded like something a church’s praise and worship band would play as a pastor in a backward baseball cap talks about feeling the embrace of the Holy Spirit. If you replaced rhythm guitarist Matthew Healy’s vocals with those of some Eddie Vedder impersonator, it would have sounded like any ’00s post-grunge band.
This track couldn’t have ended soon enough, but once it finally did, Healy urged the crowd to be silent as a Greta Thunberg monologue was played. As anyone would expect, Thunberg was talking about the imminent doom all organized human life faces if the issue of climate change isn’t curtailed.
“It is time for civil disobedience. It is time to rebel,” beseeched Thunberg.
It was a chilling moment, and it was as depressing as it was inspiring. A considerable portion of the crowd cheered, but a handful of audience members crossed their arms and looked uncomfortable over the duration of this speech. Even if they weren’t swayed by the message, it’s at least of some comfort that the band wasn’t just preaching to the choir.
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Before we were soberingly reminded of mankind’s imminent demise, Healy engaged in intermittent stage banter about how much they love touring the United States and how this was the last show in support of the band’s latest LP A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. As he conversed with the crowd, Healy took swigs from a glass of wine and took a few drags from a cigarette. He seemed relaxed and nonchalant as the crowd rapturously applauded through the night.
The crowd’s love for The 1975 was unwavering, and the volatile stylistic changes clearly did nothing to change that. Even then, the handful of fans they lost following singles like “People” are largely outnumbered by the number of newly converted fans. And judging by the quality of the promotional singles for the upcoming album Notes on a Conditional Form, it seems like that number is only going to continue coasting upward.
The 1975 are one of those bands whose best work will always be ahead of them. Over the years, they have shown a progressing, artistic maturity and have constantly reinvented themselves. They have been unafraid to take left turns, and given just how enamored the sold-out crowd in Grand Prairie was, they shouldn’t have any reason to be.
And no genre label can adequately capture that.