Review: 5 Seconds of Summer (First Direct Arena, Leeds)

Boybands of teen/young adults aren’t exactly a rarity nowadays due to the likes of One Direction and The Vamps, especially with Australian foursome 5 Seconds of Summer pushed into the limelight by the media in the last few years. There are no choreographed dance routines here though, the Aussies are placed alongside the likes of Fall Out Boy and All Time Long for their emo-fringes and pop-punk tinged instrumentation. Kerrang! magazine drew heavy criticism for their coverage of 5SOS, with readers arguing that the teenage band fitted in more with your Biebers and One Directions as opposed to the aforementioned pop-punkers like FOB and ATL. Can a band who gained their fame through YouTube and supported One Direction on their tour truly be embraced by a rock community? Maybe not, but it’s plain to see they’re not being sold that way by their PR and marketing bigwigs. Since the 60’s with Beatlemania and all, it doesn’t take a lot for a few young fringe-flipping and guitar-wielding blokes to bring in the teen girls in the masses, but does that mean the band members and their music should be automatically and negatively-branded as “pop” by the rock community?

Tunes by Green Day and The Offspring blasted into Leeds First Direct Arena as the hype-up songs for the band’s gig, foregrounding the band’s influences on their music regardless of how they’ve been sold in the media. One can be snooty and say that these teens focus on the image of bands instead of the music, but the army of 5SOS fans sang these out word for word much like I’ve experienced in pop-punk concerts. I may have known very little of the headline band’s music, but I can say for a fact that the young teen fans were very much aware of (and immerse themselves in) this pop-punk music embraced by the rock community, regardless of what cynics might say about the cultural awareness of fans of image-oriented bands.

The lights suddenly cut out and the screams of pre-teen girls and the stomps of feet fill the arena, all very much akin to the footage of The Beatles’ first American show in Shea Stadium, New York. The lead guitarist Michael came onto the stage very much styled à la Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, with the main singer Luke having nicked the hairstyle of One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson; the stylisation provides a happy medium between the commercial popstar look and the typical pop-punk get-up, very aptly matching the music style being played and sold to the teen audience. Catchy vocal hooks were centrepiece of most of the songs, placed an top of an electric guitar-driven generic chord progression. The songs themselves are very much pop, yet delivered with a pop-punk instrumentation and a flip of the fringe to boot. Think McFly if Tom Fletcher and Danny Jones had grown up as Green Day diehards. From a perspective of someone who knew very little of the band’s music, some of the songs sounded rather samey, yet each of the members took turns to sing a tune without any loss of energy from the adoring audience. The lyrical depth of some of these songs may be brought into question (I’m looking at you, “She’s Kinda Hot”), but to judge a band exclusively on this is downright petty, and the 13000 teen girls singing their hearts out to each song is enough to tell you that.

I was impressed by the drummer Ashton though, battering his kit for every song with a massive grin on his face and looking like he’s having the time of his life. Being the lead writer of most of the band’s material on top of this, he deservedly achieved the biggest screams in the house every time he spoke… though his long and flowing golden locks may have had something to do with this.

One can naturally expect the obligatory acoustic-style ballads showing up three quarters of the way through the set, much like in any other pop-punk gig. For me, this was the peak of the set; you can sneer and be cynical but you can’t deny that these songs really do resonate with their target audience, all of which are singing their heart out and swaying the flashlight on their phones from side to side.  5SOS’s stage talk comes not quite in the “sexually explicit homosexual banter” style of their idols of All Time Low and Blink 182, but in… kissing. I know, God forbid. At the same time though, the audience go mad at the frontman asking whether them whether they would like to kiss “X member of the band”, and one can hardly start screaming sexually profane lyrics* to an audience filled with pre-teens and their mums (*see Mother’s Day by Blink 182). Much like All Time Low are argued as Diet Blink 182, maybe 5SOS can be argued as Diet All Time Low for the next generation?

It’s so easy to be cynical about bands like 5SOS, and to be honest, some of that cynicism is to be expected when the band members are often trending topics on Twitter due to a biblically devoted teen audience and having toured with One Direction. But at the same time, try and tell me that a decent looking bloke playing pop music on a guitar is a new scourge on music when screaming and adoring teens at concerts have been around since Elvis in the 50’s through to Busted in the ‘00s. I can’t say that the gig blew me away (I’d seen Muse 3 days before, my standards were pretty damn high) but it was good entertainment for a Monday night and it served its purpose for its target audience so who am I to judge? Maybe 5 Seconds of Summer wouldn’t exactly fit in alongside the likes of Biffy Clyro and Foo Fighters at the Kerrang! Awards, but the role that they fill for the upcoming teen generation is one that’s been filled for decades. The band get to travel the world playing the tunes they want, the teen girls go mad for it, and the marketing team are laughing all the way to the bank… everybody’s happy.