Having been lucky enough to have managed to see The The earlier in the year in the tiny Rescue Rooms, there was no way that I was going to turn down the chance of seeing them again.
In my opinion, the genius that is Matt Johnson is an understated genius – criticised at the peak of The The’s fame for being over political in his songs such as the aforementioned ‘Heartland’ and ‘Sweet Bird of Truth’ and never quite receiving the radio airplay they deserved due to his ‘close to the bone’ lyrics such as ‘the piss stinking shopping centre in the new side of town’ ….somehow it seemed that Matt never really got the recognition or accolades that he deserved in both the songwriting or musician stakes.
Matt has assembled a formidable band of musicians around him for tonight’s gig. Keyboardist D C Collard, bassist James Eller, and drummer Earl Harvin have all been former The The members, and its only guitarist Barrie Cadogan (on a temporary sabbatical from his excellent band Little Barrie ) who has had no previous The The connection and been drafted in to provide his inimitable guitar skills to weave into the bands tapestry.
Matts luxurious deep velvety vocals have, if anything , improved in the years he’s been away – the lean years – and after opening with ‘Global Eyes’ and straight into ‘Sweet Bird of Truth’ this outside venue sounded almost silent as the master before us presents his work .
They make their way through the career spanning impressive setlist which included all the tracks you would expect including ‘Beaten Generation’ , the exquisitely beautiful ‘Love is Stronger that Death’ cries of ‘I love you” to Matt are commonplace and he accepts the compliment with humour and humility as anyone who vaguely knows anything about him would expect.
The passionately empathetic singalong with ‘This is the Day ‘ is a beautiful moment and the contrast against the industrial background of the Digbeth arena’s railway arches somehow makes it more beautiful still.
Both Barrie Cadogan and DC Collard get the chance to show just how exceptional they are at their craft , I’m constantly left in awe at Barrie’s talent on the guitar throughout the entire gig and D C Collards piano solo during ‘Uncertain Smile’ is breathtaking.
This is not to say that the percussion section are any less of a force to be reckoned with – both James Eller and Earl Harvin are literally the heartbeat of the band and make Matt Johnson’s job look easy.
‘Infected’ shows that The The can also do a dancey track with style and panache and the crowd lap this up .
As we all file out of the venue , with the lyrics to ‘Heartland’ buzzing through my head , it occurs to me that The The have come back at just the right time, their lyrics as poignant and as relevant now as they were back when I first heard them in Thatchers Eighties.
I can’t help but feel that we need The The now more than ever .