October 9, 2018
Review by David N. Lindsay
Photos by Michael Insuaste
Hi Hello Texas!
Best known as a collaborator who brings out the best in others, it is a tall order to step up and emerge as a singular force and front man in your own right. Johnny Marr's seminal songwriting partnership with Morrissey in the Smiths, his work in Matt Johnson's The The on two classic albums, Electronic with Bernard Sumner, and giving Modest Mouse an shot in the arm that took them to the top of the charts are just key points on a decades long career that cast a very long shadow.
Marr has always been a musical genius, gifted songwriter, and regarded among many the best guitar player of his generation. With his recent solo work it is now obvious, he didn't need anybody else, he just liked working with others. Its hard to imagine Jimmy Page or Eddie Van Halen even attempting to do what Marr has done, which makes it that much more impressive that Marr actually pulls off, emerging as a fully fledged front man in his own right.
Tuesday nights show at the Granada Johnny Marr and his band drove this point home.
Listening to opening act Belle Game while in the club foyer the band sounded alright, much like a rugged Cocteau Twins. Music matters, but lets be honest so does image. Some bands need a stylist. It is one thing to have a guitar player that looks like Kenny Loggins, but quite another to look like Kenny Loggins as guest star on 1986 episode of Miami Vice. The Raffi look went out of style and it isn't coming back. Vocalist Andrea Lo has a pretty good voice, but drenched in too much effects obscure this. While very animated onstage, it doesn't suit the music. When she was singing in unison with keyboardist Katrina Jones is was interesting. The band has a bit of an interesting sound but nothing as far as songs stood out.
Johnny Marr emerged guitar in hand like a gunfighter ready for action to some appropriate Ennio Morricone style intro music. Launching into "The Tracers" from his well received solo LP "Call of the Comet". Marr came out swinging. Marr then revisited his Smiths history (the first of six times this evening) with the trademark Byrdsian jangle adrenaline rush intro of "Bigmouth Strikes Again" that had the crowd energized. Marr made it clear over the course of the night those are his songs too. The setlist was well balanced and paced, with heavy attention to Call of the Comet tracks. Marr has always has a wide musical palate and switched gears easily. from the primal electro pulse of "New Dominions" to the brilliant "Hi Hello". A song that is as good as any in the Marr cannon.
Marr is known as a guitarist but what makes him great is even on solos he is always in the service of the song. The chiming solo of "Hi Hello" Marr does with just a few notes that most couldn't accomplished with dozens.
Twice he played songs during his time in Electronic. While "Get the Message" fared well. "Getting away with it" was disappointing. Johnny introduced it as a "Disco song from Manchester" but the songs signature groove seemed sluggish, and the lilting chiming guitar seemed mare ham fisted than heavenly, more klanky than celestial. With the Smiths track "Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me" Marr caught the epic feel of the song as he did on"How Soon is Now" which was well received by the crowd Marr has a pleasing voice, while not as distinctive as celebrated vocalist he has worked with,he is a good singer, brimming with enthusiasm. Even on the Smiths songs he carries it off quite well.
Marr looked lean and fit, with his "cooler than Keef in the 60s" haircut. While his band was tight, they were largely anonymous, it was very much the Johnny Marr show. Johnny clearly enjoyed crowd, he good naturelly sang a bit of Steve Miller's "Fly like and Eagle" when taking request. Even while chiding someone texting "You better be texting this was bad ass" he was engages and enjoying himself. His enthusiasm was contagious, and the crowd responded in kind. Coming back for an encore he introduced Smiths' "There is a Light" and dedicated it "to everybody in the building, and no one else". The song looms large in the Smiths legacy, and it was the high point of the night. It was elating that a song that many listened to alone and isolated, became a crowd shared joyous anthem.
The crowd was singing at full volume already before Johnny traded off vocals with the crowd. Marr closed the set with a bouncy charged rendition of "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby". One thing is for sure Johnny Marr whether working with others or not. He HAS earned it, and is still as on his game as he ever was.