Another weekend and the penultimate show in this varied Skyline Series of gigs and the one I was most looking forward to. Tonight`s entertainment was back in the open-air in this former scaffold yard, in the Digbeth area of Birmingham, The The are a post punk / new wave outfit that have been around since 1979 but in truth, The The is really the invention and conduit conceived, composed and fronted by Matt Johnson and whomever musicians he surrounds himself with at the time. I did see the band maybe as far back as thirty years ago and never expected to see Mr Johnson tour again, having taken a fourteen-year hiatus and only returning to live shows last year. So, this really was an event I was eagerly anticipating.
Although we are still in British Summer time this evening has a real autumnal feel and on this cold night, Matt Johnson and his troupe arrive on stage with their leader wearing a flat cap looking like a member of Peaky Blinders, a gang that used to roam the streets alongside this venue and the Small Heath district, close by.
After a greeting it`s straight into `Global Eyes` and then the marvellous `Sweet Bird Of Truth` a song written about the USA’s military involvement in Middle East politics, which had a limited release due to the US bombing of Libya. After `Flesh And Bones` is shared we enjoy one of tonight`s highlights with the highly political `Heartland` a song that the writer described as “probably the best song I’ve ever written”. Indeed, the feverish crowd sing almost chant the last two lines of the song “This is the 51st state of the U.S.A.”
A very laid-back version of `The Beat(en) Generation` is offered up before a song never played on the radio is shared with `Armageddon Days Are Here Again` The religious content was deemed too sensitive, at the time, due to the controversy surrounding novelist Salman Rushdie. The next section of songs is quite reflective and has the audience almost mesmerised. Amongst them is the stunning `Love Is Stronger Than Death` a song penned about the passing of Johnson`s younger brother and a song I want played at my funeral.
Three cuts from the “Dusk” album follow with the beautiful but fierce `Dogs Of Lust`, `Helpline Operator` and the melancholic `This Is The Night` As a contrast we have the uplifting `This Is The Day` with its cracking key melodica inflections. We get a passage of more thoughtful, insightful songs that include `Soul Catcher` and `Slow Emotion Reply` before the set is closed out with a spectacular version of `Infected` and `I`ve Been Waiting for Tomorrow (All Of My Life) `
It would be remiss of me to not to name the astounding musicians performing tonight and they included newcomer to this touring outfit Barrie Cadogan on lead guitar, DC Collard on keyboards, James Eller on bass and Earl Harvin on drums.
It`s not long before the guys are cheered back to the stage and we relish an extended version of the classic `Uncertain Smile` a song penned about the pain of unrequited love before `Lonely Planet` wraps up this evening`s performance. An interesting choice as the strap line is “If you can`t change the world, change yourself” Something to ponder.
It`s hard to believe that in a ten-year period between 1983 and 1993 Matt Johnson released, in my opinion four definitive albums with “Soul Mining”, “Infected”, “Mind Bomb” and “Dusk” and a quarter of a century later the songs and lyrical content are still relevant.
Tonight, was an occasion that was not only enjoyable whilst attending but almost more so on reflection. I`m sure this will be my gig of the year, if not it will certainly be close.