Sunday, 19 October 2014

Live in 2014: Johnny Marr - at the Great Hall, Cardiff University on Saturday October 18th 2014

This was the second of my 'Guitar Heroes' gigs this month following the mighty Albert Lee on Thursday.

Johnny Marr brought his Playland Tour to the Great Hall of Cardiff University. I'll admit here and now that I'm not a great fan of University Gigs but for Johnny, I thought I'd have to make an exception.

Support for the evening were Childhood. I'd already seen these guys support Temples in The Globe Cardiff which was dogged by lousy sound quality which did neither band any favours on that night but I was looking forward to seeing how far the'd come in more or less a year.
And I must say that they've improved tremendously.
Their music proved an intelligent choice to warm the crowd up for Johnny Marr and in Ben Romans-Hopcraft they have an enigmatic & interesting front man.

Now, I'll come clean and admit where I stand on The Smiths. I remember vividly their first appearance on Top Of The Pops with This Charming Man and thinking what a great sound they had and what an excellent song it was. I loved Johnny Marr's music, I even enjoyed Morrisey's words but I wasn't fussy on his vocals. And that didn't change. Like Dylan, Morrisey /Marr were excellent and interesting songwriters but I just couldn't get into the vocals. I know this is blasphemy to Smith fans but there it is. And this is the first time I've got to see Johnny live.

I've always followed Johnny Marr's career and was interested to see where his latest album would take him. Playland came hot on the heels of The Messenger and I left buying it until I saw the live show.

So was Johnny worth the wait, you bet your life he was. Playland is a much more uptempo beast than The Messenger and this made for a uplifting show which didn't give an inch from the first note to the last.

With a band as tight as.... Johnny, strapped to his Signature Fender Jaguar, opened his set with the title track from the new album and immediately he had the crowd with him all the way.
Just a quick note about the crowd, it was heaving in that relatively small arena and was full of students and over 40s. The one thing that DID surprise me was that all of the younger element of the audience were singing along to ALL of The Smiths songs word for word. So the band still has that pull today as it did way back in the early 80s. Yes, I know it was a University audience so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised but I was.

Next up was the first Smiths song with a storming version of Panic. Throughout the gig, Johnny played several Smith songs together with songs from his solo career and Electronic too.

Next up was Upstarts from The Messenger and that led into the first crowd stopping moment with the latest single Easy Money. It was here that Johnny showed that he is now at ease with his singing voice and has accepted his fate as Guitar Hero.

25 Hours from Playland followed and made way for another storming version of New Town Velocity from The Messenger.

There is nothing as pretty as William or Heaven Knows on Johnny's latest solo output but he has replaced this with dynamism & attack which is perfect for this high octane show.

The Smiths Stop Me If You Think.. gets the audience singing along again before two solo tracks Back In The Box & Speak Out Reach Out  get the crowd bouncing around even more.

Next up is one of my favourite solo Johnny tracks Generate! Generate! which just brought the audience to a frenzy.

It's The Smiths once again for Big Mouth Strikes Again and Playland's, Boys Get Straight lead into the next Smiths classic Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want and new song Candidate.

The Right Thing Right is another of my favourites from The Messenger. At this point I can actually say that I'm preferring his newer material to The Smiths classics that are being played by their co-composer here tonight.

Next up is a reworked version of Getting Away With It from Johnny's Electronic collaboration - an album which I adore.

Johnny eneded the set with the Smiths classic (aren't they all) There Is A Light Which Never Goes Out and had the audience singing the song right back at him, and he let the audience take the vocal several times during the song.

The encore kicks off with The Smiths Still Ill and next up was an incredible version of a song from Playland called Dynamo which was my favourite performance of the night.

The Messenger closer Word Starts Attack was followed by an energetic version of I Fought The Law

I thought that would have been an amazing closer but Johnny thought otherwise and actually finished the show with an electrifying and indeed show stopping version of The Smiths' How Soon Is Now

There is no doubt that Johnny Marr deserves his title of Guitar Hero - he has influenced so many guitarists over the years that it's a given. However, he is finally producing work which can now be compared to some of his best work with The Smiths. Solo, Johnny is a different beast totally from The Smiths. He can be much more energetic, which probably reflects his personality more than his Smiths tenure. He likes the spotlight, you can tell. 

The audience obviously made more noise when The Smiths songs were given an airing but I for one found his new material more interesting. 

So, a dynamic, uplifting and high octane show by a man who may be finally accepting his fate as The Smith guitarist but has found a new lease of life and is producing his most consistent work in years. In short, tonight was a TRIUMPH.

Twitter - @Johnny_Marr
@ childhoodUK

1 comment:

  1. Seems odd to see Johnny as a front-man. Clearly enjoying himself, fairly charismatic, and supremely cool for a 50ish fellow. When he's playing Smiths/Electronic tunes I still get the feeling he's aping the cadences of Mozza or Bernie a bit. Guitar-playing shines of course, but he's actually not a bad vocalist at all...

    I'm not a big fan of the two solo albums. His work with Electronic is my favorite. I love the debut & 'Twisted Tenderness' especially. For me it's the one where Johnny proves he is indeed a certifiable "guitar god".

    Also, I know it's anathema to say, but I gotta agree with you about Mozza's vocals. I'll be joining you in Hell I guess...

    Been away a couple of months. Catching up with your posts now. Keep up the good work Nick...