Photos by Alex Statsko
Manchester Deaf institute
oct 3rd 2011
Of course we reviewed him last week
But its worth going there again. Marr is a Manchester legend, he packs some history and he’s gone back to his roots. This is Marr gone full circle, away from his detours in Modest Mouse and The Cribs and the endless ‘have guitar will travel’ journey this talented guitar player has been on since The Smiths.
With his new project Marr has returned to those chiming arpeggios and the complex chimes that he patented in the Smiths. There is also a nod towards the post punk and the underground of 1977 in the new songs that drip pure pop nous in their electric shocks.
The Deaf Institute, Manchester’s best small venue, is stupidly full, people are complaining if you stand too close to them which is pretty strange at a rock gig, surely intimacy and sharing the space is either part of the process and on a night like this you have no choice.
Marr enters the stage with his new band, they are a four piece and they are dressed in sharp proto mod cool, a sharp and angular blur of suits and polka dots. Marr was always a clothes freak right from his days of managing X clothes in Manchester. When I interviewed him he knew exactly what pair of socks went with which Johnny Thunders lick. For Marr it’s the full package, the hair has to be right, the riffs have to be right, the whole mood has to be perfect.
And the music? this is a punk rock. A linear punk rock of ATV (whose genius ‘Action Time Vision’ was played before Marr came on stage part of a series of great tunes probably hand picked by Marr himself).
The rest of the band look sharp as well, the bass player has the perfect quiff and a polka dot short, he looks eighties via the classic fifties sharp but plays like he’s in a new millennium, the trad going forward, that’s so Johnny Marr.
Marr still sports that scruffed up mop of hair- his follicle tribute to Howard the bass player from Slaughter And the Dogs, the Wythenshawe yobs who inspired both the Roses and the Smiths by making it from outside the city centre hipster circle and who took the bootboy glam ethic to it’s logical conclusion.
The band are not hanging about and launch straight into the Smiths ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’, it’s strange to hear the very familiar guitar aligned the unfamiliar vocal. Marr understandably sounds a touch nervous tackling Morrissey’s idiosyncratic singing but he acquits himself well before launching into the first of the new songs, the twanging guitar shakes of ‘Psycho Beginner’ which instantly sets the stall. It’s brisk, focussed and twangy with a great chorus, a great song and Marr is back in business.
Last time Johnny went out on his own with the Healers it seemed more lumpen than this. This time round the songs have a crafted light touch and seem set for reinvigorating Marr’s already hallowed creative name.
‘European Me’ and ‘Sun And Moon’ are the next two newies that show the diversity of the material and the band has hit first gear. The night is marked with Smiths covers, it’s like Marr has taken a break from his super guitar sideman duties, playing in the Cribs or Modest Mouse to look at his own legacy. It’s part of rock n roll, you deny your catalogue and then you embrace it, you become your own curator, you deal with your own history and Marr deals with it with the next Smiths cover, ‘Headmaster Ritual’ which sees an outbreak of mass singing, there is something quite wonderful about hearing people singing along with such poetically hilarious and cutting lyrics.
Marr’s guitar playing is, of course, exemplary , he sound better now than ever before, his singing is surprisingly good even if he can’t quite capture all Morrissey ‘s inflections- the eccentricity and the brilliant way that Morrissey would not go for the obvious, twisting and turning the melodies into places that were so unexpected but then who could? obviously it’s on his own new songs that he really soars.
‘Upsarts’ and ‘I Want The Heartbeat’ are two more newies that underline the diversity of the new material. Oddly, the night is really lifts a gear when he does his own new material. Marr has gone back to his roots and re-evaluated what made him great, there are those chiming things he did with the Smiths, twangy Shadows licks, Johnny Thunders riffing, proto 1977 punk rock riffola, it’s all in there like a museum of guitar playing which hits a peak for many of these new songs and the classic Smiths of ‘How Soon I Now’.
Before the of the set there are two more newies, ‘My Delta’ and ‘World Starts Attack’and another Smiths workout, ‘Sweet And Tender Hooligan’, all the time Marr is shaking some action, impassioned yet cool, the consumate guitar hero.
The new songs are, of course, perfectly crafted- short rushes of electricity, no time wasted, no riff garbage, no pointless solos, that’s the punk and post punk ethic for you, the ethic that has always fuelled Marr’s writing- that love of classic rock n roll, Keef before he was a pirate, Thunders before he was dead, but also the experimental brave new world of post punk, that death to trad rock phase that coolly counteracts Marr’s basic instinct but fires his sharp intelligence
The songs are sharp and with no waste like the man himself, the skinny guitar gunslinger, vegan, white tea drinking, jogging hipster who may have been in thrall to the guitar legends but is not following their path to the grave. Going forwards is the key and Marr is back in first gear.