Johnny Marr at the Gramercy Theatre
New York, NY
May 31, 2018
Johnny Marr was born John Martin Maher in Ardwick, Manchester. The English musician, songwriter and singer, is best known as the guitarist and, with Morrissey, as the co-songwriter of the Smiths, who many critics have described as being one of the most important bands to emerge from the British music scene of the 1980s.
Marr formed his first band at 13 years of age. He was part of several bands along with Andy Rourke before forming the Smiths with Morrissey in the early ‘80s. Marr's jangly pop guitar style along with Morrissey’s distinctive vocals helped the Smiths achieve critical acclaim and popular success during its short career. Due to personal differences between Marr and Morrissey the group disbanded in 1987. In the ensuing 30-plus years, Marr has been a member of the Pretenders, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse and the Cribs. He has also worked prolifically as a session musician, lending his fretwork to, among others, The Talking Heads, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Crowded House, Pet Shop Boys, Bryan Ferry, Hans Zimmer, Beck, Pearl Jam and Oasis.
In 2013, he released his first solo album, titled The Messenger (Warner Brothers Records). His second, Playland (New Voodoo/Warner Brothers Records), followed in 2014. His autobiography, Set the Boy Free (Dey Street Books, 2016) received rave reviews. His third solo album, Call the Comet (New Voodoo/Warner Brothers Records), was released on June 15, 2018. He also released a live collection Adrenalin Baby on New Voodoo/Warner Brothers Records in 2015.
During the course of his career, Marr has received many accolades. Among these are: being voted as the fourth best guitarist of the last 30 years by a 2010 BBC poll and being the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Salford for “outstanding achievements” and “changing the face of British guitar music.”
On the final day of May 2018, Johnny Marr touched down in New York City at The Gramercy Theatre to promote the release of Call the Comet. The show was part of a short album launch tour which would precede the full U.S. tour scheduled for the fall.
Marr and his band kicked things off with the lead single from Call the Comet, “The Tracers.” The song was well-received, but it wasn’t until the second tune of the evening, “Big Mouth Strikes Again,” that the audience members really got bouncing, bopping, cheering and singing. As soon as Marr played the first notes of the Smiths classic, members of the crowd were heard screeching that if they “weren’t able see the Smiths (or Morrissey who almost always cancels), this was the next best thing.”
During the main set the band delivered pitch and note-perfect versions of the majority of the songs on the new CD including the new single “Walk Into The Sea.” Marr also played tunes from his solo canon (including the infectious “Easy Money” and more Smiths songs than one could have hoped for, including: “The Headmaster Ritual,” “Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me” and “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Marr also visited his Electronic days with that band’s biggest hit, “Getting Away With It.” The four song encore featured the opener “How Soon is Now?” and the closer “You Just Haven’t Earned it Yet Baby” sandwiched around “Newtown Velocity” (from The Messenger) and “Rise” (the opening track from Call the Comet).
After seeing Johnny Marr play The Smiths’ classics as well as his solo songs, I’d have to disagree with those who called it the next best thing. Now that I’ve seen the architect of The Smiths, I don’t need to see Morrissey, but a reunion tour might be nice.
Marr will return to the Sates this fall, He’ll be playing two more shows in New York City-area at Irving Plaza on October 15 in NYC and on October 16 at Warsaw in Brooklyn.
Photo Credit : Christine Connallon