Johnny Marr | 11.28.14

live marrMarr came out axe blazing, launching into the new release’s blistering title track, infused with punk-influenced guitar work and nonstop drum beats. 

The Gothic, Denver

live marr_300As Johnny Marr & Co. took the stage at the stroke of 10 p.m., the excitement in the room was palpable. Though the crowd was largely old enough to have been around during The Smiths’ heyday, they were also current enough to be aware of Marr’s efforts since then, including his two recent solo albums: 2013’s The Messenger and this month’s searing Playland. Marr came out axe blazing, launching into the new release’s blistering title track, infused with punk-influenced guitar work and nonstop drum beats. Before we had a chance to completely take it in—this was Johnny Marr, after all, his unparalleled skill on full display—he dove straight into The Smiths’ “Panic,” a treat I’m not sure many of us expected. The Smiths. The band that showed the world that Marr, at the tender age of 18, was a virtuoso and an innovator. Johnny Fuckin Marr: right in front of us.

“Hello, hello, hello, Colorado!” he greeted us before plunging back into the music with a “Let’s get going.” Next up: “The Right Thing Right,” The Messenger’s leadoff track. “Easy Money,” one of the most addictive songs from Playland, came next, with the unforgiving “25 Hours” following: a wall of discordant guitars, hard-hitting drums, and high-energy melodies. We got the first smile of the night as Marr joked, “Any questions?” A voice from the crowd called out, to which Marr responded, “That’s not one of our songs, mate. That’s by one of those bands with beards and shit. You see any stubble or laptops on this stage?”

“New Town Velocity” was a showcase for Marr’s mad skills, the guitar playing at once familiar, soothing, and stimulating. I was instantly transported to those days in my room, the summer before I left for college, my thoughts jumbled and my future unknown. Even today, his licks were enough to reassure me—all of us, really—that everything would be OK, now and always. “The Headmaster Ritual” from the Smiths’ seminal sophomore release Meat Is Murder was brilliant and shimmering, leading in nicely to newer numbers “Back in the Box” and “Speak Out, Reach Out.” After extended pogoing to close out the former song, he stopped to tell a story of being confronted on the streets of London, an experience that led to his writing the latter. Marr’s banter betrayed his years of serving as second man, without having to storytell at the front of the stage. Still, confidence surely came from his immense and unparalleled contributions to music over the past 30-plus years. “Generate! Generate!” further spotlighted Marr’s work on The Messenger.

Marr dove back into his seminal band’s repertoire many times throughout the set, next with “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” On all of these songs, his guitar licks were so impressive, we almost forgot about Morrissey’s maudlin crooning. Marr drew out some of the lyrics, putting his own touch on the delivery while showing us that he really could sing. “This song is not about homosexuality,” he announced before “Boys Get Straight,” another one of Playland’s standout tracks.

Oddly, it wasn’t until “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” that I was truly struck by the enormity of the moment. It suddenly hit me that he wrote this music. He was in that room 30 years ago, when the Smiths were bringing these words and this music together for the first time—refining and reworking it, playing and playing and playing until it was perfect, and then, in the studio, recording the song in however many takes. Just…wow.

“This is Friday night dance music,” Marr offered as introduction to “Getting Away with It” from Electronica, a 1980s supergroup comprising the former Smiths man and New Order vocalist Bernard Sumner. Closing out the main set was (to me) the most brilliant Smiths song ever, “How Soon Is Now?” (Have I mentioned I really, really love Meat Is Murder?) With a “This has been so much fun; see ya!” the man of the hour and his band left the stage. They weren’t gone long, though, greeting us again with “Still Ill.” “Dynamo,” the night’s final offering from his solo career, provided a heart-racing interlude that led nicely into a cover of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” such a great rendition that many of us dumbly asked, “Iggy who?”

“I’d like to dedicate this song to everybody in this room and nobody fucking else,” Marr proclaimed before gifting us with the Smiths’ “There Is a Light that Never Goes Out,” a song heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once. The audience sang along to every word, including the extended refrain at the end during which Marr often let us carry the lyrics entirely. Over the entirety of this 90-minute show, the music came fast and furious, while the audience’s dancing and singing never stopped—not even when a Smiths song ended and a Marr one began. I believe I speak for everyone in attendance when I say that, truly, Johnny: The pleasure and the privilege was ours. | Laura Hamlett

Set list

1. Playland
2. Panic*
3. The Right Thing Right
4. Easy Money
5. 25 Hours
6. New Town Velocity
7. The Headmaster Ritual*
8. Back in the Box
9. Speak Out Reach Out
10. Generate! Generate!
11. Bigmouth Strikes Again*
12. Boys Get Straight
13. Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want*
14. Candidate
15. Getting Away with It
16. How Soon Is Now?*


17. Still Ill*
18. Dynamo
19. Lust for Life
20. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out*

*The Smiths

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply