Live review: The The, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Wed 5 Sep
- Brian Donaldson
- 7 September 2018
Matt Johnson returns after all these years with a dazzling live collection of his existential blues
In 'Slow Emotion Replay', a jauntier number from his mournful 1993 masterpiece, Dusk, Matt Johnson implores not to be asked about 'War, religion or god / Love, sex or death'. Yet, these are the foundations upon which the east Londoner built a cult following through his The The moniker from the 80s (with era-defining albums such as Soul Mining and Mind Bomb) through to the new century (his last full live performance was at David Bowie's Meltdown in 2002). At that point Johnson pulled back from a music industry which he felt had stunted his creative growth, to work on soundtracks and various reinterpretations of his own songs.
And now, 16 years forward, here he is with a crack band to reflect back an iron-solid assemblage of tunes which blazingly stand the test of time. After all, the aforementioned sextet of topics never disappear from our collective periphery vision, with death sadly once again at the forefront of Johnson's mind. 'Love Is Stronger Than Death', one of many highlights from this show, was written in the wake of one brother's death back in 1989; his decision to take to the road again was partly triggered by another sibling's passing in 2016; and he very nearly cancelled the early June dates of this tour when his father died.
Whatever subject he lays his songwriting hands on (lust, hope, ambition, tyranny, ageing and the like), Johnson swathes it in either bluesy existentialism or rock-fuelled introspection or soulful explosion to produce classics such as 'This Is the Day', 'Heartland', 'Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)', 'Beyond Love' and 'True Happiness This Way Lies', all of which get an airing here.
At this second of two Glasgow gigs (a sold-out Barrowlands the night before preceded this packed-out Royal Concert Hall), he insisted (with the venue boss' permission, apparently) that the seated audience take to their feet for the final two numbers: 'Uncertain Smile', with DC Collard, a longstanding contributor to the The The cause, absolutely ripping it up with his take on the famous Jools Holland solo, and 'Lonely Planet', another of Johnson's seemingly depressive affairs that's actually dotted with kernels of joy.
Given the rousing receptions which have greeted The The in Glasgow, it seems unlikely that it will be another decade and a half before Johnson takes a band out onto the road again. But whatever the future holds, this singular talent will only ever do it his way.
The The: Comeback Special Tour continues until Sun 9 Sep.