Music review: The The, Barrowland, Glasgow and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

THERE was ravenous demand to witness the live return of one of the most distinctive, enigmatic bands of the 80s and 90s, who have been lying dormant for almost 20 years while many of their peers clean up on the nostalgia circuit. That scene is not for The The mainman Matt Johnson, who initially wound down his band out of grief at the death of his younger brother.

Matt Johnson
Matt Johnson

The The, Barrowland, Glasgow ****

The The, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

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With some kind of sympathetic symmetry, it was the death of another brother which led to the reactivation of The The and a mellifluous new song of tribute, We Can’t Stop What’s Coming, which fitted beautifully into the setlist at these two complementary shows in contrasting venues.

Johnson has convened a “greatest hits” group featuring former The The members from different world tours plus young guitar ace “Little” Barrie Cadogan, who made his mark in a role previously filled by Johnny Marr.

The band were black clad and austere as they took the stage of the Barrowland. With no backdrop and stark lighting, you could examine the skeleton of Johnson’s favourite UK venue. Much loved The The songs were also stripped back to their brooding bones as the band proceeded with the stealth of The Bad Seeds before lifting Global Eyes with pointed, searing guitar and delivering a classy yet visceral Sweet Bird of Truth.

The set was front-loaded with a brace of politicised pop singalongs, and the audiences at both shows were only too eager to join in on Heartland’s baleful outro “this is the 51st state of the USA” and The Beat(en) Generation, another chipper tune with a spookily relevant lyric, delivered in its current incarnation as a lovely burnished lament before Armageddon Days Are Here (Again) injected a touch of glam rockabilly into the mellow proceedings.

Johnson’s mix of blithe melody and seething anger were persuasively threaded through the two-hour set, alongside a trio of self-styled lust songs from the Dusk album which contributed to the hypnotic effect of the dialled-down presentation.

This was only enhanced at the Concert Hall show with blurry visuals dancing across the huge screen curtains which could not be accommodated at Barrowland, including footage from The The videos, images of his former home of New York and a fleeting, bittersweet shot of his family’s pub in London.

The Concert Hall was arguably more suited to the pace and acoustics of their current incarnation, though that had to be balanced against the more inhibited atmosphere of the room. Johnson was a little chattier, shading in more comment and background in the face of a (fairly) serious seated crowd. He maintained that The The were a dance band though not even their tribal wardance rendering of Infected could persuade more than a few souls out of their seats and eventually Johnson had to make the invitation explicit, ensuring a standing ovation for the glorious Uncertain Smile with its liberated, energising piano solo wonderfully rendered by the raffish DC Collard. - FIONA SHEPHERD