Matt Johnson, leader of the wryly named British pop band The The, offers a very simple summary of his overriding musical concern: What the hell is our place in the universe? Mr Johnson, 28, offers no definitive answers, but The The will explore some intruiging possibilities during concerts tonight and Saturday night at Center Stage Theatre. (Shows at 9 both nights; tonight is sold out; Saturday tickets $16.50 at SEATS outlets and the Center Stage box office, 1374 West Peachtree St. 873-2500.)
Fans who pay close attention to the lyrics of tunes such as "Armageddon Days are Here (Again)" and "The Beat(en) Generation" will find Mr. Johnson's concern can basically be defined as a search for human values. His search is carried out with unsettling visuals -- in the band's videos and on its record jackets -- that include doves pierced by bloody bayonets. His lyrics range from static-filled passages in which bomber pilots are given instructions to declarations that God doesn't live in Rome. The negative imagery offset somewhat by Mr. Johnson's pleasant, near-crooning delivery -- that seems addressed to individuals rather than crowds -- and easygoing pop rock music, frequently highlighted by strings and horns.
But it has not been a mega-successful quest for Mr. Johnson and his band, which includes former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist James Eller, and drummer Dave Palmer. "Mind Bomb," released in May by Epic Records, has been confined to alternative-rock status, meaning the songs are aired primarily by college radio stations. Worldwide sales total about 100,000. Previous LPs ("Burning Blue Soul" in 1981, "Soul Mining" in 1983, and "Infected" in 1986) haven't done that well. But publicists for the 10-year-old band estimate that MTV and other television outlets have made it possible for 50 million people to see the full-length video version of "Infected."