The lengthy period of dormancy and surprise re-emergence of Matt Johnson’s The The is one born of family tragedy. The death of a brother prompted Johnson to take a step back after the release Nakedself, while the death of another brother resulted in the decision to make a surprise return to music in the form of 2017’s standalone Record Store Day release We Can’t Stop What’s Coming.
When tickets for this series of three London shows were announced, all tickets sold out in minutes. So, despite almost zero musical activity for the best part of two decades, the thirst for the world according to Matt Johnson was still very much apparent.
As the band emerged from the smoky shadows, Johnson began by dedicating the show to his father, a local man, who sadly died at the beginning of the week of these gigs. He also makes a plea to the audience to live the moment in person rather than through a phone screen, a request generally adhered to.
Though not drastically reimagined, many of the songs have had a slight reworking; the likes of the intensely dramatic 'Global Eyes' and 'Sweet Bird Of Truth' have taken on a snarling Nick Cavian sheen and tonight they make for a thrilling start to the set. Johnson remains an engaging and impassioned performer, railing against the cranes of gentrification in East London, a story of an uncle who owned a pub around the corner, lamenting the loss of the old school boozer to relaying lyrics in the style of John Gielgud and Yul Brynner after telling the crowd he wanted to be an actor when he grew up.
State of the nation addresses such as 'Armageddon Days Are Here' and 'Heartland' provide two early highlights, statements which have depressingly remained absolutely timeless from a political perspective. Midway through the set they play 'Phantom Walls', 'We Can't Stop What's Coming' and' Love Is Stronger than Death', a genuinely moving selection of songs written for his late mother and two brothers. However, the sombre atmosphere is masterfully switched as songs of love and loss are followed by songs of lust such as: 'Slow Emotion Replay', 'Helpline Operator', the endlessly uplifting 'This is The Day' and a staggering ten minute version of 'Uncertain Smile'.
A revolving door of musicians has always provided Johnson with a tight backing and tonight is no different, Earl Harvin on drums proves to be an absolute powerhouse, while Barrie Cadogan (Little Barrie) on guitar, already a proven maestro of his instrument, proves to be a canny recruitment. Bearing in mind this is the guitarist who replaced Throb in Primal scream Cadogan, be it low-key flourishes or thrashing the riffs out, is more than equipped to pull a few ‘Keefisms’ when required which, he does with aplomb much to Johnson's obvious delight.
Tonight's The The show of light and celebration is derived from personal tragedy however, on this form, sweetness will surely follow.