San Francisco Fillmore Auditorium

They still love a drum solo round these parts...

He lives in America now, you know. For a man who has spent much of his career raging against the iniquities of society, that’s hardly going to improve his mood. Which is fine by the devotees gathered under the chandeliers at the historic Fillmore for Matt Johnson‘s first US tour in seven years. The sulkier the growl, the better for lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling, plotting revenge against a cheating lover or the cheating global capitalist system.

Thankfully, the new album, ‘Naked Self’, shows no sign of middle-aged mellowing as a clutch of its melancholic tales opens the show. Johnson‘s chosen sound for this tour is guitar heavy, with not a pretty synth swirl in sight, driven by the percussive beltings of Earl Harvin. ‘Global Eyes’, the big Chems-on-K anti-corporate anthem, stretches out to show him off, to the delight of the audience. They still love a drum solo round these parts.

The acoustic numbers (‘December Sunlight’, ‘Phantom Walls’) work well in a determinedly low-key presentation. When they rock (‘Boiling Point’, ‘Swine Fever’) it gets a bit patchy. At best there are some Primal moments, at worst there are shades of Depeche Mode‘s embarrassing metal period.

All is forgiven as a simple acoustic strum and plaintive harmonium accompany the still-glorious ‘This Is The Day’. Not sure, however, that anyone will forgive the truly horrible guitar solo that replaces the piano break in ‘Uncertain Smile’. There is ‘Infected’, of course, and ‘Heartland’ and ‘The Beat(en) Generation’, but with predictably difficult arrangements.

Despite these attempts to shoot it down there is an air of nostalgia hovering around the chandeliers. The new album may be pretty good, but for most people the gig is about that moment in a long-gone night when a Matt Johnson line made things fall into place. This isn’t the day, but a reminder of it.