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Live Review: Johnny Marr

November 19, 2013

001Johnny Marr, born John Martin Maher in Manchester, England, co-founded some group in a shut-in’s bedroom in the 1980s whose name this blogger can’t quite recall before finding fame as a session musician on the ultimate Talking Heads album Naked. After working with artists are varied as Paul McCartney and the Cribs since the late 1980s Marr decided, presumably with typical cynical careerism, to strike while the iron was hot and release his solo debut a mere 30 years after one might have expected it. Marr’s The Messenger is packed full of punchy, energetic guitar tunes that sometimes recalls britpop, his work with Bernard Sumner in Electronic, and, yes, the Smiths.

Perhaps because his solo effort is firmly ensconced in a familiar indie rock aesthetic, Johnny Marr was able to bring a sort of lively, camp nostalgia to Rams Head Live on Saturday night, more than satisfying both those that admire him for his encyclopedic knowledge of pop music and his ability to weave its disparate strands into remarkable songs again and again, and those who had come to worship the one of last of the guitar idols.

After beginning the evening with The Messenger highlight “The Right Thing Right,” Marr quickly established the bouncy rock that dominated the evening by moving into Smiths classic “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before.” Johnny Marr made it immediately apparent that he was more than just a serviceable frontman. Having made his name with the Smiths as the epitome of the cognoscenti’s guitar hero by generally avoiding showboating solos and cliched rock gestures, Marr toyed with his old image and the audience all evening. Marr bounded and solos abounded, creating the perfect storm for the some of the most endearing old-dude dancing I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.

Marr’s generous sense of humor greased the wheels of the fun machine, teasing the audience as ‘liars’ for claiming that they bought his latest work, while not seeming bothered by it at all. Solo songs like “Upstarts” and “Generate! Generate!” kept energy levels high, which would reach crescendos with Smiths favorites “How Soon Is Now?” and “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” The former featured slight variations in arrangement including a swampy, bubbling synth part and an increased use of dissonance, while the latter was simply the best performance of that great song I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Morrissey play it two entire times! Critics derided Marr’s vocals on The Messenger as a weakness uncomfortably similar to Oasis’s Liam Gallagher nasally whine, but in a live setting, any such criticism could be disregarded from the force he brought to his solo work and the utmost care he brought to the evening’s Smiths songs.

The encore was a summation of Marr’s strong performance with a delicate guitar intro that gradually morphed into Smiths’ lullabye “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want,” followed by a scintillating cover of the Clash’s version of “I Fought the Law,” Electronic’s “Getting Away With It,” and concluding with “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” which Marr “[dedicated] to everyone in this room and nobody fucking else.” The sing-along Marr encouraged in that song’s outro was a touching rock gesture that reflected the earnestness of the audience members’ thrown up devil horns during “How Soon Is Now?” and “I Fought the Law.” That sincere devil horns, as popularized by deceased elven fan fiction writer Ronnie James Dio, could find their way into the air during “How Soon Is Now?” of all things, speaks volumes for the breadth of Johnny Marr’s continuing appeal.

Read our Q&A with Marr here and check out a gallery of the show here.
Photo by Joshua Emmitt Nielson

  • William Bond

    Great review!

  • Libby the A

    Thanks for the review. One note- “I Fought the Law” was written and performed by the Bobby Fuller 5 before the Clash had at it.