In Concert: Johnny Marr

Written by Ben Dodd.


I was lucky enough to see Johnny Marr (of Smiths fame) at his performance at the O2 Academy in Sheffield. He was supported by ‘Crewel Intentions’, a band which instrumentally reminded me of the Doors, among others. Their use of a synth organ and their seemingly old western inspired guitar licks really engaged the listener, and lead vocalist Chilli Jesson’s emotional performance and lyrics made for a unique and interesting sound. Some may recognise Jesson from his previous band ‘Palma Violets’, but this new musical venture is more mature in both an instrumental and lyrical sense, moving away from the noisy garage rock sound and sarcastic delivery of his previous band. I would definitely recommend checking this band out to anyone who is a fan of acts such as Richard Hawley or Nick Cave.

Johnny himself put on an amazing show – he played a good mix of his solo material, which is very strong in its own right, and songs from his time in the Smiths, which naturally received the warmest reception. Perhaps the highlight of his solo work for me was the song ‘Easy Money’, which had the whole crowd roaring along to the chorus and featured some amazing and dynamic guitar work. In listening to his catalogue previously, I had somewhat glossed over this song, but this performance really made it shine for me, and I now place it up there as one of his best solo songs, up with the likes of ‘Hi Hello’ and ‘New Town Velocity’.

Marr’s selection of Smiths songs to play was amazing; his first choice was ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’: the crowd were sucked in from the first bar of the galloping rhythm guitar, singing every word back at him. He also played ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ – a hard song to sing, given Morrisey’s dynamic vocal range and sombre tone, yet Marr pulled it off brilliantly. He closed the main body of the concert with ‘How Soon is Now’, which featured his best guitar riffing of the entire show; he strutted around the stage during the instrumental sections, pulling of face melting guitar tricks; he bent strings behind the capo for an amazing warbling effect, and riffed off the bassline by tuning the guitar in and out of E standard with the tuning pegs.

For the encore, Johnny played some highlights from his new record, such as ‘Bug’ – the first song in his catalogue to discuss politics in the lyrics. The penultimate song of the encore was an extended version of ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’, perhaps the most amazing and sombre moment in the set, with everyone in the crowd, young and old, connecting with each other and Marr himself over the amazing lyrics. The song has always had the power to make someone feel nostalgic for a time or place they don’t really understand, and that feeling was felt even more powerfully in the room as Johnny played his stunning rendition. His final song of the evening was ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby’. The upbeat guitar line had the whole crowd moving, and by the first chorus there was the concert’s first and only mosh pit. As about 50 people moshed around in the centre of the main standing area, Marr was all smiles, repeating the last chorus and thanking the crowd for an amazing show.

This is not to forget the amazing and surprising covers Marr pulled out over the course of his set. His first was ‘Getting Away With It’ by Electronic, a song which he actually co-wrote. He made the song completely his own, including a ripping guitar solo and breathing new life into the vocals. Perhaps the most surprising cover of the entire night was when Johnny shouted out for requests; aside from the expected cries for ‘This Charming Man’ (which Johnny did tease with the opening riff, but then laughed and shook his head), someone in the crowd shouted for ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ by Kylie Minogue. Marr laughed for a second began to improvise the beat of the song on his guitar, and his band quickly followed suit. He played an amazing rendition of the pop song, and after the lights had died down and he had played the last guitar chord, he looked into the crowd at the person who had requested it, laughed and said “I bet you didn’t think we’d do that one.”

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