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March 18, 2013 5:30 pm
“Johnny Marr!” came the volleys of blokey acclamations from the crowd as this show reached its climax. “Johnny Marr!” How many guitarists in the land are held in such affection? Only a handful. This high esteem is attributable not so much to Marr’s technical expertise with the instrument – though he has a fair degree of that – but to the fact that he used to be a Smith. And the excitement generated by this show was attributable not so much to his recent debut solo album, The Messenger – though it’s a decent enough disc, with a couple of stand-out tracks – but to the fact that he peppered his setlist with Smiths songs. Rapture.
A few years ago it was reported that The Smiths had turned down $75m to re-form; in all likelihood, it’s the one big reunion that will never happen. So fans will have to content themselves with former singer Morrissey’s punctuating of his shows with the odd Smiths tune, and now this: Johnny Marr, making his first ever tour as a solo artist. He’s not much of a singer – his heavily treated voice was in tune but indistinct in the mix – but he and his taut three-piece band’s renditions of Smithian gems such as “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” and “London” were brisk and fresh.
In his tight threads and nu-Mod hairstyle, Marr carried himself with diffidence as he led his band through a set that oscillated between Smiths and solo stuff, pausing occasionally to take in songs such as “Getting Away With It” from Electronic, the band he formed in the late 1980s with New Order’s Bernard Sumner. Of the tracks from the new album, those that lodged in the memory were the hard, sharp “Upstarts” and the poppy, hooky “Lockdown”.
What was disappointing, though, was the lack of rhythmic cut-and-thrust in the new material, all of which was meat and potatoes compared with Smiths songs such as “Bigmouth Strikes Again” (urgent, thrumming) and “How Soon Is Now” (juddery guitar riff and Bo Diddley-ish beat immaculately rendered).
And as “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” brought the show to an appropriate and tumultuous conclusion, the thought occurred: though ostensibly built around his current work, this was an evening that seemed to be more about Johnny Marr reclaiming his past.
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