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Johnny Marr At The Henry Fonda Theater, Saturday November 2nd 2013

Johnny Marr

In these strange times when Morrissey publishes his memoirs and a Smiths reunion is less probable than an asteroid destroying the Earth, Johnny Marr is touring the States solo (actually with a full band), and he is doing it with brio, lots of big bright guitars and a total ease on stage. First of all he opened his set at the Henry Fonda Theater on Saturday with the theme for the 1971 series, The Persuaders, composed by the late James Bond composer, John Barry. That was some opening! I was watching this show when I was a kid, it brought back nothing but good memories and English humor, and soon Johnny appeared on stage wearing a blue-turquoise jacket, with a cool haircut and his brilliant guitar playing. They guy has received a Godlike Genius award by NME and was ranked the fourth best guitarist of the last 30 years in a poll conducted by the BBC in 2010, so I was sure I was about to see a guitar master, an institution, a legend!

He just turned 50 on October 31st, but he didn’t look his age at all, and he energetically rocked the place for more than one hour and half without an ounce of pretension, playing a loud set heavily drawn from his debut album ‘The Messenger’, as well as from the Smiths catalogue. I have to be honest, I had never listen to his solo material (and he almost played the complete album), but all these new songs sounded great live, with a few pieces jumping at your ears with more appeal than others, such as the catchy foot-tapping tempo of Upstarts’ or the rocking guitar numbers of ‘Lockdown’, ‘Generate’ or ‘Word Starts Attack’. It was plain and simple, Marr wanted to rock as he said himself in an interview: he wanted the album ‘to sound effortless’, ‘not like I was trying to reinvent the wheel’, ‘I’m not interested in trying to have people who might like other kinds of music follow me. I don’t want to please them’. We got it, there is no need to reinvent rock’ n’ roll when it’s working.

Johnny Marr switched his guitar often, all night long he was laid back and told us it was ‘nice to see you Hollywood California’. However, he was constantly focusing on his guitar play which was quite impressive, not at all ostentatious but full of intricate riffs, and I was enjoying the set even though I didn’t know any of these songs… until he played a Smiths song. Again, I am not gonna lie, people cheered up when they heard the first riffs of ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ or ‘Panic’,… they all shouted ‘I love you Johnny’ and they were mostly here to hear these beloved ones! And Johnny gave them what they wanted, ending playing six songs of the Smiths catalogue throughout the set. May be it was a bit weird to hear him singing instead of Morrissey, but the voice was not too different and he performed them with great ease. He moved fast, jumped as if he was conducting an aerobic class, playfully pointing his guitar neck to the crowd; he basically had all the Mick-Jagger-like agile moves if Jagger was playing guitar.

It’s hard to imagine that he has been in so many bands since the Smiths breakup, bands which include Modest Mouse, the Pretenders, Talking Heads, the Cribs, Pet Shop Boys,.. he gave us just a bit of his extensive catalogue with ‘Getting Away with It’, a song by Electronic, a band he formed with Bernard Sumner of New Order, and suddenly it was a slick delivery of a sexy dance floor. Marr was all over the place but he didn’t disperse, the set was tight and executed with the energy of a young punk band… as a matter of fact they played ‘I Fought the Law’ during the encore, and people couldn’t contain their joy. A very large girl behind me, who had, very loudly, sung along to every Smiths’ song, chose this moment to raise her fist and move closer to me, then, at ‘How soon is Now’, another guy had the same idea, putting his arm around my shoulder and pushing me in the pit. What had been a rather contained crowd was suddenly becoming a bit rowdy, and I will never understand why people wait till the end to unleash their wild side, but that’s often the case.

Before going to the show, I wasn’t expecting too much, I told you I hadn’t even listened to his solo album! But one thing is sure, Johnny delivers, and judging from all these arms stretching to the stage, from all these stomping feet calling him back before the encore, he totally ruled the place for almost two hours, proving that if Morrissey was the persona of the Smiths, Marr was the sound, a layered and complex sound performed with skills and gusto…And when he came back on stage alone to sing ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’, it was a perfect moment, and I bet nobody was thinking about Morrissey.

Setlist

The Right Thing Right
Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before 
(The Smiths song)
Upstarts
Sun & Moon
The Crack Up
Panic 
(The Smiths song)
New Town Velocity
The Messenger
Lockdown
Say Demesne
Generate! Generate!
Bigmouth Strikes Again 
(The Smiths song)
Word Starts Attack
I Want the Heartbeat
How Soon Is Now? 
(The Smiths song)

Encore:
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want 
(The Smiths song)
The It-Switch 
(new song)
I Fought the Law
Getting Away with It 
(Electronic song)
There Is a Light That Never Goes Out 
(The Smiths song)


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