The 1975 w/Phantogram | 11.29.16

Odd and unexpected as it was, I felt lucky to have tapped into that purest glee and adoration for a memorable few moments in my much older life.

1975

Peabody Opera House, St. Louis

“What do you figure the median age is in here tonight?”

“I don’t know, maybe 20?”

“No way.”

“Yeah, no, probably more like 18…or 17?”

As in, 50% of the audience was likely 17 or under. The other half of the audience still fell pretty squarely in the 18 to 20 range, with a long tail of everyone else, including a few families of teenagers and dads-accompanying-daughters. One bonus: Lines for the bar were negligible, if not nonexistent. Lines for Phantogram merchandise were similarly scant. The band brought vinyl for their new album, Three, with the first 20 copies signed. After the show, nearly all still remained. Not a reflection of their performance, which was stellar, but the odd demographic of the audience. The line for The 1975’s merchandise, on the other hand, snaked across the lobby.

Apparently, The 1975 has a substantial teenage fangirl following. I had absolutely no idea. I had listened their album a few times, being drawn to the show primarily to see Phantogram. But The 1975 has a fun, throwback 1980s sound, sometimes along the lines of Duran Duran, sometimes Hall & Oates, which I looked forward to seeing onstage. But other times they turn out crooning “Hey, girl” pop ballads. Add to this eclectic range of sound a lithe, mop-headed, flippant British lead singer from Manchester, and I really should not have been so gobsmacked by the chittering audience of hysterical teen girls that filled the Peabody Opera House. Assuming that everyone else but me knew this about The 1975 fanbase, I am still perplexed as to the pairing of these two bands sharing a bill.

As sometimes happens with tours, the opening band has a more established career and more albums under their belt. Phantogram’s first release, Eyelid Movies, came out in 2009, followed by two additional albums as a singular entity and one collaboration with Outkast’s Big Boi in a mashup called Big Grams. So Phantogram can carry a bill alone, and I reassure myself that it is perfectly reasonable I would have thought to attend the show on their merit alone. But The 1975, while relatively new—established in 2013 with two completed albums—pulled considerable weight of their own, their fans most certainly the vast majority of the crowd. Add to this the fact that it was the first “The Point Ho Ho Show” of the year, and it all makes sense in retrospect: that my dear husband and I found ourselves surrounded by buzzing hives of teens in tank tops (in 30-degree weather) who screamed like they were at an Elvis show at the mere mention of The 1975 coming on stage, and lost their ever-loving minds every time lead singer Matthew Healy tossed his shaggy head of hair, shook his hips, or sauntered across the stage.

But before the young ladies lost their minds, Phantogram played an outstanding set. Crowd reception was not cold, but cooler than they deserved, likely a result of dissonant aesthetics. Opening tracks “Black Out Days” and “Don’t Move” were older favorites, from 2014’s Black Out Days and the 2011 Nightlife EP, followed by a pair from the new, third album Three. “You’re Mine” and “Same Old Blues” saw Sarah Barthel working the stage like a boss. She expertly swayed her white blond/black dip-dyed bob and sauntered wasp-like from end to end in chains and black leather seamless head to toe, as touring bandmate Nicholas Shelestak banged out every note on the synthesizer, guitar swinging from his neck.

Much to the dismay of anyone standing behind them, a few isolated souls stood to dance above (and blocking) the seated crowd. And the oldest songs, from 2009’s Eyelid Movies, really drew them out of their seats. “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “Howling at the Moon” compelled the final addition of human blockades that stood between so many of us and the stage for the remainder of the evening, a half dozen lonely souls head-bobbing and waving their arms in the air for their own personal viewing of the show. Tempting as it was to heckle and moan, and insurmountably distracting from the show as it was, I hoped it might give the impression that the crowd’s enthusiasm was being held at bay by the seating chart.

The set closer, “You Don’t Get Me High,” closed the show with spectacular interplay between Barthel and bandmate Josh Carter, comfortable and genuine. But the mood of the song—experienced, seasoned, exhausted, and jaded—posed an odd contrast with the fresh-faced and bubbly audience. Not that the youth cannot sympathize with a thrill turned lackluster, but as soon as the set ended, the girls behind us groaned, “OK. I just want to go home now. I just feel sad.” Overdramatic as they obviously were, it was a telling contrast between the moods of the opener and headliner. With Phantogram’s polished, practiced, professional performance, playing a full-hour set, it was a shame to see them wasted on an unfortunate pairing of acts. We can only hope for another opportunity to see them soon, but in a different venue: with standing room and a more appreciative, age-appropriate audience.

Whenthe DJ from The Point set foot onstage, the crowd revived with murmurous delight. As soon as he mentioned “The 1975!” the girls squealed in delighted anticipation. Even after the DJ walked off the stage and left us waiting for the main act, the buzzing continued. And as soon as the band filed onstage, The Peabody turned into a Beatles concert. “OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD” came the breathless gasps and shrieking in pitches barely audible to the human ear. The Peabody erupted into a grungier, colorized scene from Ed Sullivan.

The 1975 came out swinging with “Love Me,” synthed-out like ’80s paragons Thomas Dolby or Howard Jones. The band stood in front of a spectacularly lit backdrop, interspersed between lighted columns, the scenes changing to suit the mood of the song, at times projecting a single image across the stage, like a sketched horse for “Milk” or a cityscape for “UGH!”—just like the video!

While the new wave/soul sounds of The 1975 are more to my liking, the girls went wildest for the softer, sensitive-man love songs. As the lighted columns switched from city lights to Miami Vice pastels, “Heart Out” got all the arms in the air, all the heart-shaped hand gestures overhead. It also brought saxophonist John Waugh onstage with a sweet sax solo, which drew reassuring praise from the swooning teens.

But it was clear that Healy and his floppy curls were the real raison d’etre for the evening. The row of young ladies behind us took turns sighing in disbelief of the beauty of it all every time he touched his hair or James Brown–shuffled behind the mic. Hell, the Peabody even let him smoke a cigarette onstage for “A Change of Heart.”

The band was nothing if not charming and had the entire audience on their feet, save one older dad who had sacrificed enough by chaperoning his daughter; standing for the whole thing was asking too much. The crowd hung on The 1975’s every word and move, singing and swaying along, even with themes uncomfortably adult for the teen audience.

Eventually, the young ladies behind us, who had been anxiously shifting feet all night, politely asked if anyone was sitting in the empty seat next to my husband, who is a tall man and had been blocking their view of the stage since the entire crowd took to its feet. Relieved to learn it was vacant, they gleefully planned to hop over the row of chairs, until they realized that it landed them precisely behind yet another tall man, who appeared to be consort to his giddy, daddy/daughter-selfie-taking teenage girl for the night. Feeling their pain from the Phantogram incident just a few minutes prior, we forfeited our seats and let the girls take in the full, glowing presence of the The 1975.

While the age demographic and specific reaction of The 1975 fans is unlike anything I’ve experienced since, say, The New Kids on the Block at Busch Stadium circa 1988 or so, the palpable enthusiasm of the crowd was thrilling. Odd and unexpected as it was, I felt lucky to have tapped into that purest glee and adoration for a memorable few moments in my much older life. | Courtney Dowdall

Phantogram photo by Joseph Johnson; view photo albums for The 1975 and Phantogram.

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