The most compelling pop singers in music right now — at least in the branch where pop singers still play guitars — were on stage last week. The 1975, fronted by Matty Healy, finished the tour in support of their second album, a US and UK number one, with a headline show at the Latitude festival, the chosen spot for recreational drug-taking by kids who have just finished their GCSEs. Ezra Furman played his most prestigious London show yet, appearing at the Barbican as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of his label, Bella Union.
Healy and Furman are very different — the one a genuine popstar, the other off in the margins — but also defined by their similarities. Both want to speak directly to teenagers about the insecurities and unhappinesses they share (Healy, whose audience is large and fervent and young, has succeeded in this; Furman attracts a rather older crowd, who recognise and adore his musical reference points). Both shy away from any conventional masculine posturing: Healy, sylphlike and doe-eyed, flounces around onstage in a sexually ambiguous way; Furman, who identifies as gender fluid, normally wears dresses and make-up. Both define themselves in terms of a relationship to religion: Healy is a dedicated atheist, who has addressed his lack of faith in song; Furman is an observant Jew, who will not play live on Friday nights. Both spent years trying to make an impression before sudden breakthroughs, and in conversation with them, it’s evident insecurities haunt them both.
This review was meant to contrast Furman’s stripped-down appearance at the Barbican with the dazzling production, hugely influenced by the visual artist James Turrell, that The 1975 rolled out for the last time at Latitude. Blame the M25 that it doesn’t: after five hours getting no more than 30 miles from my home in north London, I turned back when it became apparent The 1975 would be well into their set before I reached Suffolk.