Seeing The 1975 on the bill at Dubai's Coca-Cola Arena was a surprise. A pleasant surprise, but the two felt like an unlikely pairing.
It’s not because the band are not worthy of arena filling status, but because their acclaimed reputation in their native UK has not quite spread to the Middle East just yet. But perhaps that’s exactly why they are here.
They managed to draw a respectable crowd for their first regional show in Dubai: there were the clear die-hard fans, as well as a smattering of people who looked to be making the most of their city’s new arena, armed with the lyrics of one or two of the band’s biggest hits for good measure.
Fresh off the back of a sell-out UK tour and the European summer festival circuit, the crowd at this gig may have been small by The 1975's standards, but it’s a show I’m sure they won’t be forgetting for a while.
We were ten songs in when Matty Healy broke down in tears. This wasn't just the small emotional overspill you might expect from a passionate performer, this was full uncontrollable sobbing.
"I know it's indulgent for me to cry", he tells the crowd after stumbling his way through the end of Robbers, clearly overwhelmed by the love and support of Dubai fans. "I just want us to be able to identify as humans, not as groups of people," he said, going on to talk about diversity and his love for the individuals in the crowd.
It was the overspill of words you could feel had been on the outspoken frontman’s lips since he stepped on the stage. “I’m not trying to be provocative,” he had said earlier in the show. “But we are who we are.”
Who The 1975 are is hard to define, and that's just how they like it. Their music falls somewhere between the electro-pop sound of It's Not Living (If It's Not With You) and the softcore rock of Love It If We Made It, and their show took us from one extreme to the other and straight back again, leaving us to try and keep up.
One minute, Healy is crawling through the legs of guitar player Adam Hann, who barley shifts his gaze from the keys, trying not to stumble over his bandmate: he is clearly use to this kind of behaviour. The next moment Healy steps perfectly in time with the identical twin backing dancers that join him on stage at various points throughout the show. The choreography wouldn’t be out of place for a girl band half his age: he has moves.
For most of the show though, Healy moves around the stage with the manner of a possessed rag doll, occasionally falling on the floor and bumping into other band members.
It leaves the audience questioning whether it’s all part of the rockstar aura, or if he is genuinely just lost in the moment.
His stage manner may be eccentric, but this was a polished show. His distinctive voice sounded note perfect throughout, particularly during Someone Else, while upbeat TootimeTootimeTootime showed the band's catchy sound at its best.
The band's biggest hits Chocolate and Sex were saved for an energetic encore, which saw them reappear on stage after chants of "one more song" rang out around the arena.
"Have you got one more in you?" Healy asked the crowd as the recognisable backing track to The Sound blared out. Judging by the deafening screams, the crowd would have been up for going all night.
As they play the show out, past criticism of the band’s music flashes up on the screens behind them. “Is this a joke?” “Do people still make music like this?” “Genuinely laughable”. But you just need to look at the faces of those in the crowd to see it’s The 1975 who are having the last laugh.
When Healy ends the show he is back in full egotistical rockstar mode. “Ladies and gentleman, please give it up for the last band left”, he says, with a mic drop as the lights go out.
But just as I think that’s it, deafening screams come from the front row as he reappeared to meet, take photos with and talk to fans, walking off stage to mill with the audience.
Just like that, the rockstar image once again melted away, and he was back to being a humble guy from Manchester.
The 1975 are a band of purposeful contradictions, which, ultimately, make for great entertainment.