Photo : Alex Staszko
In a year of comebacks this has been another remarkably well executed reinvention. Almost with military precession Johnny guitar Marr has gone from the perfect sideman, the man with the vision who invented the Smiths and created a new kind of band template in the early eighties, the have guitar will travel sideman- the ultimate indie guitar hero who was more than just the icing on the cake of the Cribs and Modest Mouse and many others and comes armed had his own back catalogue that nearly anyone else would kill for to centre stage and no-one has blinked.
Last year it was secret gigs in town, testing the water- it’s never that easy to make this move when your image is so set in stone, the waif minstrel, the pocket sized Keef, the guitar Nero for a whole generation of youth who is now the singer in his own band.
This is the second of two triumphant sold out nights at Manchester’s great Ritz venue and the former Smiths guitar player is very much the frontman he could have been all those years ago when he was running around town with his guitar or managing X Clothes with a head full of dreams and a hand full of magic chords. The Ritz is perfect for tonight and Johnny knows this, this was where he played his first pro gig all those years ago supporting Blue Rondo A La Turk at some long lost fashion show, it’s a neat reference that he acknowledges in the middle of the set.
At that time, of course, with Morrissey he had the perfect partner in crime and it was one of rock’s great partnerships that he had put together when he knocked on the singer’s Stretford door but these things are never built to last and the pair of them are working apart more than two decades since the great split. Whilst poor old Mozman gets ill in the USA on tour, Johnny is going from strength to strength in the UK and his well received debut album has given him the platform to carve out his own distinctive niche.
He has tried this before with the Healers a good few years ago but it didn’t work so good that time but second time around he’s playing to his strengths and writing great songs that are full of his own musical DNA, you know with those distinctive jangles, those post punk riffs, those tight structures full of melodic tricks and turns. He also has the confidence to pepper his set aweigh those old hits from the Smiths and Electronic as he tells his own musical life story.
There comes a point in all artists careers when the past is nothing to be scared of and the Smiths songs sit very comfortably with the new solo songs, and cause mass singalongs at the pretty faithful versions, what’s good news for Marr, though, is that his own new material is hardly dwarfed by the much loved hits that soundtracked a bedsit generation and stand out on their own terms.
His debut solo album keep, The Messenger, is well represented and played almost in its entirety with enthusiastic reactions to The Right Thing Right and the great anthemic single Upstarts and Sun And Moon.
Kinda like the tougher end of the Post punk scene there are less jangles and more angular riffs turned into songs than the Smiths songs. European Me sounds anthemic already and the taut songs structures and catchy choruses sees songs like Word Starts Attack stand up against Smiths classic Big Mouth Strikes Again. The versions of the Electronic songs sound better than the originals with a bit more rock n roll giving them a new energy.
The encores deliver a killer version of the Clash version of Sonny Curtis from Buddy Holly’s Crickets’ I Fought the Law and the place erupts and goes up another level for How Soon Is Now with is classic guitar figure bouncing around the venue before the set closing version of the Smiths There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.
Bring on the festivals…