A few impressions from the band's concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
When the band came on stage Matt Johnson started with a few words. He declared that for a musician performing at the Royal Albert Hall is the Wimbledon of concert venues. Then he announced that he was going to dedicate the three London concerts to his father who died four days earlier which was received with a standing ovation. Before the band started to play the first song of the evening (‘Global Eyes’) he requested that the audience not to experience the concert through their iPhones as for the musicians on stage it is unpleasant to be playing in front of a crowd of iPhones. “If you see someone using their phone you have my permission to confiscate it,” he joked. Johnson mentioned tonight’s performance was filmed by Tim Pope who directed many The The videos in the past so the audience would be able to see the concert again at some point.
Johnson’s singing voice was in excellent form. He sounded clear crisp and determined. When he sang “THIS IS WAR!” in ‘Armageddon Days Are Here’, there was a lot of aggression in his voice making him sound like the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket.
Songs like ‘Heartland’, ‘Armageddon Days Are Here’ and ‘The Beat(en) Generation’ were written at the end of the 1980s and haven’t lost any of its relevance and urgency in these times of political turmoil. It says much about Johnson’s visionary talent as a songwriter.
As a band the five musicians play wonderfully together where none of them is trying to dominate with their instrument the overall sound but all serving the songs’ best interest.
When you make the analogy that the drummer and the bass player are the defensive unit of a football team then they are as organised and reliable as Atlectico Madrid combined with the brilliance and playfulness of Messi and Ronaldo. Earl Harvin and James Eller are the engine of the band and although they play together for the first time it feels like they have been playing together for many years.
Harvin is a very versatile drummer always finding the right tone that suited the song. Powerful and aggressive in ‘Armageddon Days Are Here’ and ‘Infected’, sensitive and melancholic in ‘We Can’t Stop What’s Coming’.
A special mention should be Harvin’s performance ‘I’ve Been Waiting For Tomorrow’, the opening song of ‘Soul Mining’ where the drums were created on drum machines. When I interviewed him for the tour book he said, “I enjoy the challenge in finding ways to make these parts ‘come to life’ without losing their original sonic character unique to the drum machines.” I’m always blown away by the pounding, tense energy of the drums on the recording and it was incredible how Harvin kept the same energy of the recording but now performed by a human.
STROKE OF GENIUS
Moving was the performance of ‘Phantom Walls’ starting with guitarist Barrie Cadogan and keyboard player DC Collard playing the first part of the song in sync. I think it is a stroke of genius of Johnson to include Cadogan in the band line-up is as he brings a fresh, raw and bluesy sound to The The’s music. I would love to hear him play more solos like he did in ‘This Is The Night’.
THE PIANO SOLO
Lots of people were dancing and singing along with ‘This Is The Day’, ‘Armageddon Days Are Here’, ‘The Beat(en) Generation’, ‘Slow Emotion Replay’ and ‘Uncertain Smile’ in the encore. It was the moment when all eyes were on DC Collard because of the famous piano solo in the song. In the beginning he remained truthful to the structure of the original solo as it was recorded followed by a wild improvisation where he completely let himself go with the band mates standing in a circle around him.
The tour is called the 2018 Comeback Special. Rightly so, it was a very special to be there.
Written by Thierry Somers