Johnny Marr at The Ritz on a Friday night in Manchester has a certain ring to it and as the recently crowned god like genius pointed out rather appropriate, as this was the venue of his first ever professional gig with a little known band called The Smiths, way back in 1982. We all know the history from there, quitting The Smiths, forming super-group Electronic and adding his classic chiming guitar to the likes of The The, Modest Mouse and The Cribs. Tonight though Johnny is flying solo back in his hometown and taking centre stage with first official solo album The Messenger in tow.
With the trademark haircut, fitted grey jacket and white Fender Jaguar guitar Johnny and his backing band took to the stage and launched straight into album opener The Right Thing Right, all upbeat drums, Motown styling and a classic slice of Marr guitar work. Those there to pay homage to The Smiths guitarist were quickly pleased when second song in Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before made an appearance. Upstarts then followed with its raw guitar licks and driving rhythm, the reluctant front man now looking comfortable and confident.
Forbidden City from the Electronic days is a nice surprise and really suits Marr’s vocal style which is similar to that of Bernard Sumner who sang on the original in the gentle delivery and melodic harmony however this style was exposed on The Smiths track London which saw Marr at his brilliant best on guitar but the vocally it missed that unique delivery of Morrissey.
With the heavy shadow of past glories hanging over the new album and unfair comparisons made its distinctly noticeable that live the new material stands up in its own right, European Me and Lockdown sounded particular impressive and The Messenger was a real high point with a ringing guitar sound that could only be Johnny Marr and a funky bass line that gets the crowd clapping in the middle eight. The set kicks up a gear from here with Generate! Generate! a real crowd favourite prompting fist punching to the spiky guitar riff and chanting back the lyrics but the highlight had to be the guitar solo, it just soared away and had you mesmerised. Whilst Johnny is certainly confident in the frontman role it’s when he steps away from the mic and thrusts his Fender forward in typical pose that he looks most comfortable, letting the guitar do the talking.
The Smiths-tinted spectacles were back out again for Bigmouth Strikes Again which had the whole of The Ritz singing along. Word Starts Attack continues the high tempo and has more than a passing resemblance to Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out in its structure and energy. New Town Velocity slowed the pace down nicely with its melancholy refrain and Bad Lieutenant feel. The pace was then picked up again with the frantic I Want The Heartbeat getting the crowd jumping and Johnny strutting his stuff to leave the crowd wanting more.
We of course all knew there was to be an encore, during the brief interlude chants of Johnny Marr, Johnny Marr went up accompanied by feet-stomping and hand-clapping before Johnny bounced back out minus his dapper jacket instead sporting a Generate! Generate! T-shirt and just like a naughty school boy who had taken his school uniform off launches into a cheeky cover of I Fought The Law. With the new album pretty much played in its entirety the encore was all crowd pleasing fun. An amazing version of the Electronic song Getting Away With It which was stripped back, rocked up and expanded giving it a whole new lease of life. And then two classic Smiths tracks, How Soon Is Now? with that guitar riff and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out which I’m sure means something different to everybody in the room but brought them all together under the famous Ritz glitter ball to sing in unison. All that was left was for Johnny to triumphantly raise his guitar high above his head in acknowledgment of the crowd clapping and chanting his name and take a bow after a show that delivered on new material with just the right balance of nostalgia thrown in.
The Right Thing Right
Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before (The Smiths)
Sun And Moon
Forbidden City (Electronic)
London (The Smiths)
Bigmouth Strikes Again (The Smiths)
Word Starts Attack
New Town Velocity
I Want The Heartbeat
I Fought The Law (Crickets/Clash)
Getting Away With It (Electronic)
How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths)
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (The Smiths)