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Concert Reviews:
The The makes a stunning return at the Royal oak

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Saturday, September 22, 2018

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ROYAL OAK -- Right at the start of The The's show Friday night, Sept. 21, group founder and mainstay Matt Johnson let the packed Royal Oak Music Theatre know the Detroit area was not one of the seven cities originally on the itinerary for The The's first North American tour in 18 years.

So, he said, he directed the band's booking agent to "remove a city on the West Coast -- I won't say which one -- and put in Detroit."

Good move, that -- for all concerned.

The The got plenty of love, and gave it right back, during its two-plus-hour show on Friday, with Johnson and company seeming like it had been 18 minutes, not 18 years, since it was last playing on these shores. Drawing from all six of its studio albums -- primarily 1993's emotionally wrenching "Dusk" -- and beyond, the quintet delivered 23 songs that sounded as potent and relevant, politically and personally, now as they did three or more decades ago.

And it was a good sign that one of the night's highlights was a mid-show rendition of "We Can't Stop What's Coming," the 2017 single that was the first new song from the band in 15 years.

What was also on display Friday was The The's broad range. With Johnson -- clad in a blue shirt and black slacks and working a three-pronged microphone stand -- intoning poetic song introductions, the group rolled from the murky ambience of "Global Eyes" to the spare rhythmatics of "Sweet Bird of Truth," the full-bodied surge of "Flesh and Bones" and the jazzy tones of "Heartland" -- in just the first four songs. The The worked its way through radio hits and deep tracks alike, leading a singalong during the anthemic "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)," recasting "Beyond Love" in a spare, subtly building arrangement and pairing the foreboding "This is the Night" and a breezy "This is the Day" in a back-to-back demonstration of the kind of emotional sweep Johnson deploys in his music.

All of that was accompanied by a series of visuals on a large rear-stage screen, ranging from newsreel footage of riot police to snippets from The The's original videos (some featuring the now-bald Johnson with a full head of hair) and some newly created material.

It helped, of course, that three of the band members have been with the group since the late 80s, while newcomer Barrie Cadogan of Little Barrie firmly established himself in the lineage of The The's notably lead guitar players, which have included Johnny Marr and Eric Schermerhorn; His solos elevated songs such as "This is the Night," "Soul Catching," "Infected" and "I've Been Waitin' For Tomorrow (All of My Life)." And keyboardist DC Collard ably recreated the epic keyboard solo from "Uncertain Smile" during the encore.

The group also dipped into its 1995 Hank Williams covers album "Hanky Panky" for a rocking rendition of "I Saw the Light," which Johnson preceded with a story about how The The snuck into New York's Chrysler Building to film the song's video while security guards were busy watching the Super Bowl.

"See you in 18 years," Johnson cracked as the group prepared to close the show with another anthem, "Lonely Planet." He quickly added that, "I'm sure it will be sooner," and most anyone at the Royal Oak on Friday will surely be on hand for that return.

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