During a recent KEXP session, Johnny Marr talked about playing live: “When you do a show nothing else is really going on. There has been no past, no future, you try to really be in that moment.”
Attending his gigs makes it easy to see what he means; the enjoyment and the immersion of just going with the flow and putting absolutely everything into each performance. But Marr’s live sets are also examples of complete mastery; a solo artist since 2013, when The Messenger was released, the shows have undergone significant changes. Seeing how slick and thought-through they are is remarkable, this tour and tonight’s (November 11th) show being markers of this success.
Following a string of collaborations, Johnny Marr’s own work now has a clearly defined voice and identity. If The Messenger was a lecture on how to create flawless guitar soundscapes, the more straight-forward Playland bridged the difference between the first and current album, Call the Comet being more intimate and personal, playing with elements of 80s electronica and synth.
Marr’s aim to distribute the new songs evenly whilst reflecting the work of The Smiths and Electronic is evident. Starting out with The Tracers before launching into Bigmouth Strikes Again gets everyone into gear, sets the pace and energy. He then proceeds to Jeopardy, Day In Day Out, which he refers to as being ‘about obsession’, and New Dominions followed by the mesmerising Hi Hello, while The Headmaster Ritual is a sonic encounter between The Smiths’ 1980s sound and his current band.
The meditative vibe of the spoken-word influenced Walk Into The Sea then makes way for Getting Away With It, another track that has been given the perfect Marr solo treatment, taking it to a new level with a sense of there being creative control without ever neglecting the pop element of the song. Hello Angel leads nicely onto the much loved Spiral Cities, and Marr’s ability to effectively tease the crowd by playing an excerpt from The Eagles’ Hotel California followed by the popular riff of This Charming Man is a trick destined to transform a perfectly happy crowd to an electrified one.
The huge surprise of the night comes when Marr welcomes his former songwriting and The The partner Matt Johnson onstage. They haven’t worked together for 25 years but that is barely noticeable as they deliver a warm, fun-loving take on The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In the City before Marr brings the set to a dramatic end with How Soon Is Now.
An encore consisting of Rise, Bug, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby goes to show complacency or indifference is never an acceptable position to take, and that we need Marr just as much – if not more – than ever.