An Englishman in Chicago

OK… That title is clearly plagiarized… And I am not talking about Sting, so I should probably start over. Sorry to you purist type A’s out there.

I am getting back to that The The concert concert from a few months ago. It’s great that that show and Matt Johnson’s music have that much influence on my day to day life that I still feel compelled write about it.

Back Story, as I recall:

The The were a mildly successful alternative “band” from England in the 80’s and 90’s. They had a “hit” with the song “Infected”. You may or may not remember it, and I would not hold it against you if you have never heard of the band outside of hanging out with me.

The The, the band, is kind of a misnomer. Matt Johnson is the singer and songwriter for all the music listed under the band name… But the rest of the band has been a rolling cast of characters. Jonny Marr, ex Smith’s guitar virtuoso has been the only semi-constant player in the band.

In the 80’s, The The used MTV and long-form video better than anyone. The album “Infected” was available as a full length VHS album as well. Every song was made into a video. Of course, only one or two made it to MTV, but the rest were produced with the same love and attention of anything showing on TV. “Mind Bomb” followed up this album with several video treatments of songs as well. Johnson was giving equal attention to video and music. (The good news is that both still hold up over time)

I never saw them live… And when they last toured… I lived in Florida. They never even came close! (At least I dont recall it)

Earlier this year:

When I heard that Johnson was bringing The The out of retirement to go on tour earlier this year… I was totally beside myself. Until I heard the news that his shows were only scheduled for the UK. ???? NO!!! I have already felt the depression of missing Kate Bush’s month long London engagement a year ago. I really didn’t want to relive this. After all the shows were announced… I began to talk to the Mr’s about a quick trip to London. Fortunately, The The sold all their venues quickly and decided to take the show across the pond. Dates for the US were made. 1 night in Chicago!

I didn’t think much about getting tickets when they went on sale… After all, this was a band that had not toured in 20 years… And an album had not been released for a decade. How flash can tickets sell?

The tickets sold out. Ouch. I was distressed, until I remembered that nifty website called StubHub. THANK YOU STUBHUB for existing. I got a pair of tickets for about 15 bucks more than list price. I can handle that for my stupidity.

Now the next hurdle. Would they be any good? Johnson was a solitary guy who has not been out practicing or playing gigs for years. He has released 2 singles over the last 10 years… But he wasn’t touring or backing up these songs with live shows. He had been doing some soundtrack work, but I believe that was instrumental work. Maybe the scariest realization was this: his amazing prowess with video had left a mental image of an artist from 1989 in my head. I saw Brian Wilson last year… He didn’t leave his Piano for the whole “Pet Sounds” show. He didn’t appear physically able too. Johnson would surely be better than that?

The reviews of the shows in England were all glowing. But can you trust super-fans spewing praise at their favored artist? I took all the reviews with a grain of salt. Adding to this apprehension… Johnson made a plea online, instagram, facebook etc that nobody record the show. “Put your phones down and enjoy the show” was the extent of the message. While this is a great message, it leaves a cyber snoop like me little to work with for my show expectations.

The show:

I titled the piece “An Englishman in Chicago” because that is exactly what we got that night performing. Matt Johnson does not write cheery or bubbly music. He writes about lost love and personal failings. I was not expecting this handsome, non-aged and jovial man to pop out on stage and start complimenting us for coming to his show. He was truly enthusiastic and spoke in a wonderfully chipper English accent.

I was blown away. Even hearing him talk a little bit as the show started eased many of the fears I had been harboring.

The lights dimmed and in true The The fashion… The artistic element was introduced. A solid while background behind a band that were not illuminated. It was a striking contrast. The video backdrop played into the show all night.

The first song he played was “Global Eyes”… It starts with a chunky guitar riff and has all the brooding Johnson you have come to expect. It sounded amazing. The band was tight, and Johnsons multiple microphone setup had him sounding perfect. (Before Brandon Flowers could even walk, Johnson was using mics for different song moods)

The set list wasn’t completely timestamped, but the band played songs that started with earlier music and worked their way to his early 90’s triumph, “Dusk”. I do like that album, but have always been partial to the earlier stuff. The song choices were strong. He picked all the signature music that everyone in the crowd could sing along too.

The encore started off with the devious intro to Dusk and included one of my all time favorites, “Uncertain Smile”… The song includes a piano solo that goes on for nearly 5 minutes. The encore gave the band the opportunity to play this twice the length. The song was turned into a jam session. The ending was “Lonely Planet”. A song that I have sung 500 times but never listened to the lyrics that intently. Probably because it came out later… When real life had intruded into my ability to absorb and memorize lyrics.

The last verses of the last song resonated more-so now than ever before. We live in a time and an age where our every action can mean so much to the people around us. It was personally touching.

Johnson ended the show as he started it… Thanking everyone for coming. Even after playing two hours plus of emotionally wrought lyrics.. He was a cheerful gentleman.

Please Matt… Please. Don’t wait so long to tour again!

Lyrics to Lonely Planet:

Planet Earth is slowing down
Overseas, underground
Wherever you look around
Lord, take me by the hand
Lead me through these desert sands
To the shores of a promised land.
You make me start when you look into my heart
And see me for who I really am.
If you can’t change the world. Change yourself.
If you can’t change the world. Change yourself.
I didn’t care if the sun didn’t shine
& the rain didn’t fall from the sky
I just cared about myself
From this world to the next
And from the next back to this.
By our actions we are bound.
We’re running out of love
Running out of hate
Running out of space for the human race.
Planet Earth is slowing down.
You make me cry when you look into my eyes.
And see me for who I really am.
If you can’t change the world. Change yourself.
If you can’t change the world. Change yourself.
And if you can’t change yourself….change the world.
I’m in love with the planet I’m standing on
I can’t stop
I can’t stop thinking of
All the people I’ve ever loved
All the people I have lost
All the people I’ll never know
All the feelings I’ve never shown.
The world’s too big. And life’s too short.
To be alone…To be alone. 

Postscript:

Angela did take a few pics… You see those here. I tried to take 2 at the beginning and end… But they didn’t turn out. In hind site, I don’t need a video from the show to remember it… But a few pics are nice. Sorry Matt.

Also… I finally got a The The T-Shirt… I’ve been waiting my whole life for this!

Link to Uncertain Smile: Spotify

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