Okay, so maybe the Manchester, England native should not be referred to as an “axe man.” And shredding may really not apply to his style of playing. But what cannot be argued is his importance in the guitar player universe – especially the one that came out of the 80s new wave/post-punk/alternative music scene. Johnny Marr’s style is one of simplicity and beauty. The Smiths produced only four studio albums, of which Morrissey wrote the lyrics and Marr wrote the music. Until now, much importance has been placed on Morrissey’s side of that creative force. How can there be a Smiths without that voice, a voice that is one of the best in the modern musical era. But Marr has released a surprisingly terrific new solo album that casts a shadow on just how much he needs The Moz. That new album is called The Messenger.
Marr can write a song. Marr can sing a song. And that guitar may arguably be considered just as important (more so?) to the Smiths’ genius sound than that other guy’s voice. Saturday night in Atlanta, Johnny Marr proved that he needs no other to put a voice to his music. It was a rousing show, with a majority of the fans in attendance appearing to be hardcore Smiths fans from so many years ago. Since the breakup of the Smiths in 1987, Marr has done a journeyman’s work recording with the Pretenders, The The, Talking Heads, Neil Finn, Electronic, Modest Mouse and the Cribs, among others.
With his new band, Marr has created a tight sound. Playing all but one of the Messenger tracks (“European Me”) live. He showcased his Mod sensibilities and wicked sense of humor. The new songs are fantastic and translate powerfully on stage. Listen to the single “New Town Velocity” and try not to hear the Smiths’ “Half A Person” in the intro.
Interspersed throughout the set list were quite wonderful renditions of Smiths songs and one by Electronic, the group Marr joined along with Neil Tenant (Pet Shop Boys) and Bernard Sumner (New Order). That song, “Getting Away With It,” was an alternative dance hit back in 1989. The Smiths songs – “Stop Me,” “Panic,” “Bigmouth,” “How Soon Is Now?,” “Please, Please” and “There Is A Light” – initially made famous with the crooning and velvet voice of Stephen Morrissey, were somehow equally as special at the Loft when Marr belted them with heart. Watch Marr's sublime performance of "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" from the Jimmy Fallon show.
Marr’s voice is surprisingly wonderful and his new songs catchy and rocking. The best of the best are “The Right Thing Right,” with its marching drumbeat and siren-slide guitar (not terribly unlike that in “How Soon Is Now?). Marr does things with his guitar that others can’t. The fabulous “Upstarts” and “New Town Velocity” round out the trifecta of video releases, seemingly making them all official singles. “Generate! Generate!” is another one that will transport you back to the mid-80s alternative rock scene. When you hear the new stuff, the knee-jerk reaction is to blurt out, “That sounds like the Smiths!” That’s because Marr invented that sound. That’s his sound and it sounded good.
During the encore, Marr chanted “Adrenaline! Adrenaline! Adrenaline!” before knocking out a powerhouse “I Fought The Law” – the Clash version – which created pandemonium (in a good way). Catch Johnny on tour, if you can or buy The Messenger on iTunes or Amazon.
Meredith Sheldon performed a beautiful acoustic set to open the show. The Massachusetts artist has supported Johnny on his American tour. She has recently released the EP A La Mar (Sketches) and MLS from 2012. You can find her music on Bandcamp.
Set list: The Right Thing Right, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before, Upstarts, Sun & Moon, Crack Up, Panic, New Town Velocity, The Messenger, Lockdown, Say Demesne, Generate! Generate!, Bigmouth Strikes Again, Word Starts Attack, I Want The Heartbeat, How Soon Is Now?
Encore: Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, The Hop, I Fought The Law, Getting Away With It, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.