In its minimalism and indeterminacy, the very name of Matt Johnson's group--the The--suggests an ambitious open-endedness, and sure enough, at the Universal Amphitheatre on Friday the Englishman applied his sharp, rumbling croon to questions of existential dread, human drives, social and political structures. . . .
Good questions, a good band, a unique musical blend--so why did the concert seem so uninvolving? It might be that Johnson's aspirations outdistance his inspiration. He evokes Bowie in his musical design, and Bryan Ferry and Morrissey in his depiction of human isolation, but he lacks the flair and charisma that would convey his concerns with theatrical force.
Johnson--who has gathered a solid following but proved to be overly optimistic in headlining the 6,000-seat Amphitheatre--forges a sort of modern art-rock sound from funk, blues (most of the solos Friday were taken by the harmonica player), industrial and cabaret sources, but the parts tend to cancel each other out rather than cohere in a harmonious whole.
You sense that Johnson deserves respect: He's been pursuing his vision with integrity and passion for a decade now. But it's kind of like something you know is good for you but isn't very much fun.