Review: The The, Newcastle University

Singer-songwriter Matt Johnson of The The performing at Newcastle University. Pic: Carl Chambers.
Singer-songwriter Matt Johnson of The The performing at Newcastle University. Pic: Carl Chambers.

The The made their return to the North East after some 17 years away from performing live at probably the smallest venue they could find.

Whereas other dates on this celebrated comeback tour have included the salubrious likes of London’s Royal Albert Hall, the band’s Newcastle show was in the tiny - and packed to the rafters - university hall.

The The performing at Newcastle University. Pic: Carl Chambers.

The The performing at Newcastle University. Pic: Carl Chambers.

But such cosy confines gave this performance the feel of an intimate club gig, certainly revealing the band’s Naked Self, to borrow the title from one of their albums.

The The is essentially singer-songwriter Matt Johnson, but he has put together the cream of musicians from previous incarnations of the touring band.

The new member is guitarist ‘Little’ Barrie Cadogan, formerly of Primal Scream, who shone on a stripped down and bluesy version of Sweet Bird Of Truth.

Also in the line-up is acclaimed jazz drummer Earl Harvin, who displays a deft touch on Johnson’s emotional material and was blistering on a raucous Infected.

Singer-songwriter Matt Johnson of The The performing at Newcastle University. Pic: Carl Chambers.

Singer-songwriter Matt Johnson of The The performing at Newcastle University. Pic: Carl Chambers.

Keyboard player DC Collard adds flourishes to the more jazz and blues-influenced numbers, and is sensational on his piano solo in Uncertain Smile.

But The The is, of course, all about the melancholic, emotionally wrought and lyrically deep songs of Johnson.

The now 57-year-old singer delivered mesmeric versions of songs from his classic '80s albums Soul Mining, Infected and Mind Bomb.

Songs from those records, like This Is The Day, Heartland and The Beat(en) Generation, which railed against the brutalising and socially dividing powers of the times, seem even more visionary and relevant now against a backdrop of another Tory government redoubling its efforts in waging class war on the underprivileged.

The The performing at Newcastle University. Pic: Carl Chambers.

The The performing at Newcastle University. Pic: Carl Chambers.

Johnson and his excellent band ended their two-hour set with the plaintive plea of Lonely Planet to thunderous applause.

No doubt they’ll be playing a bigger venue when they return to the North East.