The 1975 at The Chop Shop/1st Ward

The music industry seems to be cluttered with indie rock bands right now. You’ll have to forgive me for my callous disposition, but most indie rock acts are a dime a dozen. In the case of The 1975, I’ll make an exception.

This group is an interesting cross section of 80s rock and R&B that genre-blends tunes with electronic influences, but still maintains pop-sensibility. The British rock band’s quick rise to stardom includes a couple successful EP releases and full length album, followed by a worldwide tour that landed in Chicago during Lollapalooza weekend.

Before we get into this show, it’s worth mentioning that they did an NPR Tiny Desk Concert that I highly recommend you take ten minutes to watch.

After seeing that performance, I knew I’d be in for a treat at Matthew Healy’s free acoustic set on Saturday morning at Chop Shop in Wicker Park. What I didn’t expect was just how big the following would be for a show like this and what the demographic would be.

Let me paint you a picture. I’m walking up the street in Wicker Park on Saturday morning around 10am. I notice there’s a line forming under the train station at Damen/North & Milwaukee. I’m confused because it sure seems late for a brunch crowd. I also feel ten years late for the prom given the age of these people. I dismiss it, run my errands and walk back home. I return to the same street 30 minutes before show time, three hours later. The line has grown. Substantially. There are 500 girls in line, and they’re all under age 16. Four dudes in line, including me. I feel awkward, but push forward.

The venue has a beautiful set-up. Chop Shop is a blend of deli/butcher shop meets poetry slam/music venue. It’s Just big enough for a corporate event on the roof, but also cool enough for an underground warehouse party in the back. As cool as the venue is, the band ran into some challenges early. Upon arrival to the U.S, their equipment got caught up in customs. They don’t even have microphone or guitar cords. So yeah, this will be a true acoustic set. Outside the venue, the young minions are growing restless. Healy looks through the window as he does a sound check, acknowledges the girl anxiously waiting for him. He gives them a wave, and a British laced ‘Ell-O.” They erupt with screams almost breaking the glass. I’m horrified as I clinch my teeth. Healy looks over at us, shakes his head and blurts, “Ridiculous, right?” Yeah dude, you have no idea how many more are outside this place. God help us all.

Once the show got started, none of that made any difference. Healy’s calming presence brought the excited under-aged crowd to a tame stand still. Maybe they were star struck. Maybe, for a moment, they realized they should shut their mouths and just listen to him play. He’s charming and clearly ready for the big time. Even though Healy seemed mildly annoyed, he handled it like a professional. As he strummed his way through solo versions of “Sex,” “Chocolate” and “Girls,” the simple guitar chords pierced everyone’s ears with delight. He slowed down each song, and every lyric sounded even more beautiful than hearing the studio version. For a band that largely explores the themes of love, sex and drugs, the melancholy of a simple acoustic show allows you to realize those same songs also tackle issues like death, fear and hope.

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