tue 13/11/2018

The The, Digbeth Arena, Birmingham review - Matt Johnson takes his political pop back on the road | reviews, news & interviews

The The, Digbeth Arena, Birmingham review - Matt Johnson takes his political pop back on the road

The The, Digbeth Arena, Birmingham review - Matt Johnson takes his political pop back on the road

The The return to a time when indie kids paid attention to the news but didn’t dance much

Matt Johnson: still fighting the good fight

Matt Johnson is a genial bloke with a trunk-load of songs that view the glass as not only half empty but too small. In the '80s and early '90s this pessimistic protest singer even managed to bother the charts a fair few times before quietly slipping out of sight until the release, a year or so ago, of his experimental Radio Cineola Trilogy album. However, the resurrection of The The didn’t end there and on an autumnal, but thankfully dry, evening in Birmingham, he took a crowd of 40- and 50-somethings on a trip back to the days when indie kids read the newspapers but didn’t get up and shake a leg on the dancefloor very often.

Digbeth Arena is Birmingham’s newest music venue and consists of a large open-air space bordered on one side by old railway arches and on the other by loading bays. It is essentially reclaimed industrial wasteland in an area that will no doubt soon fall prey to property redevelopers keen to make a fast buck. Given The The’s songs of urban decay, warmongering governments and general unhappiness towards the way of the world, it was an appropriate venue in which to unveil a rebooted band that featured many familiar faces from Johnson's illustrious past.

Strolling onto a stage which featured a large screen that projected cut-up and spliced images from the group’s old promotional videos throughout the performance, the black-clad band launched straight into the baggy groove of “Global Eyes” before an audience who, while appreciative, spent the next hour and a half with feet firmly placed on the ground while the occasional cloud of weed smoke drifted by. Moving swiftly on to late '80s career highlights such as “Sweet Bird of Truth”, “Heartland”, “The Beat(en) Generation” and “Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)”, it was clear that no matter how much things change in the big wide world, they always stay the same. Quite whether such tunes would get the same amount of media coverage and radio play in Brexitland as they did 30 years ago is a moot point though.

Newer tunes, such as the jazzy “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming” from Radio Cineola Trilogy and a cover of Hank William’s “I Saw the Light” did get an airing among the nostalgia. But it was, somewhat inevitably, career highlights, such as the more up-tempo “Infected”, “This Is the Day” and the unsurpassable “Uncertain Smile” (its transcendental piano solo provided by DC Collard) that were met with lively singalongs from the crowd.

Despite Johnson’s claim that “we’re a dance band” before The The kicked into Soul Mining’s “I’ve Been Waitin’ For Tomorrow (All of My Life)”, a show that really wasn’t aimed at getting feet moving and hips swaying inevitably had its ebbs and flows. And at times, the noise of general chit-chat in the audience was clearly audible. However, it was a show that was able to produce more than a few gems of social commentary from another time when things looked pretty bleak for those without fat bank accounts.

A show that really wasn’t aimed at getting feet moving and hips swaying inevitably had its ebbs and flows

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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