On Thursday, April 21, Prince passed away, and The 1975 played at the Santa Barbara Bowl. While no one will ever match Prince’s multidimensional, cross-generational spin on funk, pop, R&B, and sexuality, the Bowl couldn’t have coincidentally picked a better band to play that night than The 1975, who are worthy knights and inheritors of Prince’s purple reign in their sleek, synth-soaked pop and anti-establishment credo.
The 1975 renew so many ’80s sounds, revamping and distilling their influences to their purest shades of pastel cool. Prince’s face filled the screen in the break between sets, and when the band returned with the chopped-up gospel of “If I Believe You,” it was an uncanny channeling of the Purple One’s pop drama and soulful sexuality.
But that was just the backdrop, and passed-on legends aside, it was The 1975’s night. They are a great live band, ecstatically energetic and capable of some arena-sized guitar blowouts. As a lead presence, Lead singer Matty Healy is a charismatic force, more adorable than grandiose, moving about with sly slithers and graceful gyrations. He’s sensitively sensual, as in the haunting “Falling for You.”
Openers The Japanese House were a great entrée into the evening, though their live presence could use some development. The music, for sure, is good: set-closer “Still,” a highlight, is as good an electronic interpretation of R&B as any; “Cool Blue” featured some exciting and deliciously thick drum sounds; and “Teeth” showcased Amber Bain’s nice wah guitar chops. At times, though, it felt as if the band were emitting more sound than they were really making, either relying on backing tracks or employing some especially nifty keyboard/drum pads. Something felt missing for the amount of thick sound coming through. Or maybe it’s Bain’s love of the vocoder, which, while stylistically cool, at times obscures a needed element of human vulnerability.
Main act The 1975 have struck the balance, though, between digital and flesh tones, in songs that sound somehow timeless but very definitely new. Highlights were many, from new fan favorites, such as “Somebody Else” and “Loving Someone,” to the joyful explosions of “Girls” and “The Sound,” which got the entire Bowl moving en masse. Awash in some of the most beautiful lighting and production design this reviewer has ever seen at a show, it was a night of ethereal energy and the sonic perfume of realized teen dreams. In 2016, The 1975 are absolutely essential, and their energetic Bowl show cemented that fact.