"People are always asking me where have I been," Matt Johnson told the Brooklyn Steel crowd on Sunday night. "You'd think with 16 years I'd come up with a good answer." Officially back, The The's "2018 Comeback Special" makes for their first North American tour in 18 years, and Brooklyn Steel was the first of two shows here.

The current lineup of The The, who are genuinely shit hot, are almost like a more pared-down Bad Seeds, with Matt noting they don't use sequencers, laptops or in-ear monitors. With that, the traditional rock lineup lent itself to The The's later albums, especially 1993's Dusk, and their set featured seven of its 10 songs, including Modern Rock hits "Slow Emotion Replay," "Love is Stronger Than Death" and "Dogs of Lust." Those were played mostly straight, but the rest of the set -- featuring two or three songs each from the rest of The The's catalog -- were reworked to fit with the sound of the band. It actually worked to a few songs' favor: I prefered Sunday night's live version of "Infected" to the original's bombastic Big '80s production, and same goes for Mind Bomb's "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" whose lyrics (including the chorus of "Islam is rising / Christians mobilizing") could've been written this year. Both songs also were a showcase for drummer Earl Harvin who is a nuanced beast behind the kit.

The show could've used a few more bangers like "Infected" and Soul Mining opener "I've Been Waitin' for Tomorrow (All of My Life)" at the start of the set, which was generally mid-tempo, but it was nonetheless a terrific night. Matt Johnson asked if anyone had any requests at the start of the encore -- someone yelled for "Giant" (which might be my favorite-ever The The song) but he said that it was too complex for the five-piece to pull off live. (Tonight's Beacon show, though, is with opener JG Thirlwell, who played percussion on that song.) Johnson was probably joking about requests anyway -- The The's setlist has been basically the same every night since starting the Comeback Special. We did get a subdued version of "This is the Day" and a great take on "Uncertain Smile" that had keyboardist DC Collard putting his spin on Jools Holland's epic piano solo from Soul Mining studio version of the song.

Matt, who was in great voice and spirits, told lots of stories, many of which were about New York City where he lived for many years. Those included recognizing locations from the "Slow Emotion Replay" video while walking around the city this weekend, and climbing out onto one of the Chrysler Building gargoyles on a cold January day for the guerilla shoot of the hair-raising "I Saw the Light" video ("Not for the faint of heart," Matt rightly said).

What this show really highlighted for me is that while some of The The's studio production may have dated, the songs really have not. Matt noted that "Flesh and Bones" and "Heartland" (both written 30+ years ago) are about corporations tearing down building for skyscrapers, and the themes of alienation and apathy that run through much of Johnson's work are evergreen.

If you didn't see, Matt Johnson wrote about the new lineup of The The and the "Comeback Special" tour for us, and the rest of the band talked about what they talk about on the tour bus. The The play Beacon Theatre tonight (9/17) with X O R D O X (aka Matt’s old pal Jim Thirlwell of Foetus) -- tickets are still available. Elysian Fields opened the Brooklyn Steel show and pictures from their set and the whole night are in the gallery above. Setlist and a few videos from the show are below.

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SETLIST: THE THE @ Brooklyn Steel 9/16/2018
Global Eyes
Sweet Bird of Truth
Flesh and Bones
Heartland
The Beat(en) Generation
Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)
We Can't Stop What's Coming
Beyond Love
Love Is Stronger Than Death
Dogs of Lust
Helpline Operator
This Is the Night
This Is the Day
Soul Catcher
Bugle Boy
Slow Emotion Replay
I Saw the Light
Like a Sun Risin Thru My Garden
Infected
I've Been Waitin' for Tomorrow (All of My Life)

Encore:
True Happiness This Way Lies
Uncertain Smile
Lonely Planet

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photos by P Squared