Live Review: Johnny Marr, Birmingham Institute (16/3/13)

The Smiths. Electronic. The Cribs. Modest Mouse. The The… The list is endless, yet 2013 has seen legendary guitarist, Johnny Marr, finally release his first solo effort, The Messenger, followed by embarking on an extensive UK tour.

Although Marr was on vocal duties in one of his other former bands, The Healers, The Messenger is considered his genuine first solo effort. It’s the first time the spotlight has been purely on Marr himself. His incredible guitar work is never in question, but would he be as effective as a frontman? The best haircuts in and around Birmingham congregated in The Institute to find out.

The venue filled with an eclectic range of people, right from those that saw him in The Smiths to those of us whose parents had not even met by the time The Smiths had broken up. Interestingly, the material Marr played from ‘The Messenger’ received a better reception from the younger members of the crowd.

Marr’s solo album has some seriously good moments: ‘Upstarts’ is an exciting rock song; ‘The Right Thing Right’ is an obvious single choice; and ‘New Town Velocity’ displays Marr’s softer side. As expected, Marr’s newer songs sounded great thanks to his guitar masterclass, the band’s surprising tightness, and the surprisingly good vocal skills on display. However, everyone in The Institute would be kidding themselves if they did not admit to be waiting for songs from his extensive band career.

In the summer, I was slightly underwhelmed by Morrisey’s versions of classic Smiths songs. Thankfully, Marr did not disappoint. The night’s second song was ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’, with ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ and ‘London’ also tucked in the set. ‘London’ must be one of Marr’s favourite songs to play – it was probably the most excited he got on stage, saluting the crowd by hoisting his guitar above his head.

As good as the first hour was, it was the encore that made the night special. Declaring he “wanted to have some fun”, the band flew into a cover of ‘I Fought The Law’, before a captivating version of Electronic’s ‘Getting Away With It’. This left two songs, and everybody knew exactly which. Marr’s masterpiece, ‘How Soon Is Now’, left me wishing I’d been born thirty years earlier, whilst ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ became a two thousand person karaoke singalong.

As satisfying as The Messenger was as a debut solo album, there is no doubting where Marr’s legacy lies. The fantastic atmosphere made for a perfect celebration of Johnny Marr’s music, during which it was confirmed to me that these versions of The Smiths’ songs is how they’re meant to be played, not Morrissey’s self-indulgent solo versions. Long live Johnny Marr!

Alex Neely

…Alex has been listening to Dream Syndicate – Days of Wine and Roses…


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