Johnny Marr, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds. 07/03/2013
When you go to see someone crowned NME’s Godlike Genius just a week before, you can be forgiven for expecting to witness something pretty special. Throw into the mix the intimate surroundings of Leeds’ 400 capacity Brudenell Social Club, and you’ve got yourself a once in a lifetime gig.
Johnny Marr needed no introduction to those inside the Brudenell last Thursday, but this was part of the legendary Smiths guitarist’s debut solo tour, and there was a sense of intrigue amongst the few hundred lucky ticket holders, with Marr set to play only his second proper gig in support of the recently released, The Messenger.
The guitar maestro opted for no support act and he followed his band on stage at around 9.15pm, strolling out with his signature Fender Jaguar already round his neck, looking as effortlessly cool as he did when The Smiths made their Top of the Pops debut in 1983. Thirty years later however, he took to the centre of the stage, and without acknowledging the crowd, launched straight into album opener The Right Thing Right. It was a raucous return, sounding more like The Cribs than The Smiths, but it had Marr’s trademark guitar work written all over it and the crowd lapped it up. His silence continued and he proceeded to tease out the opening chords of Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One, before launching head-first into The Smiths’ classic 1987 single. Despite not singing on the original, Marr’s voice sounded eerily authentic and the line “Nothing’s changed, I still love you,” almost sounded like a call to arms to his former co-writer. But this gig wasn’t about The Smiths, it wasn’t about Morrissey, it was about Johnny Marr and he was making his mark.
It was always going to be a tough ask interchanging Smiths classics with his solo material still very fresh from the studio, but Marr found the balance through the pure unadulterated pop of current single Upstarts. Probably the most accessible of his new work, Upstarts’ guitar intro could only belong to one person, but the rousing chorus again sounded like it owed more to one of the Jarman brothers than Morrissey, which is definitely not a bad thing. Marr appeared to be completely at ease playing the role of frontman and he raced through more of his new stuff, with Sun & Moon, Electronic’s Forbidden City and then European Me all greeted with rapturous applause.
Inevitably, between songs there were calls from the crowd for Smiths numbers, with Marr joking at one point that he’d forgotten how to play This Charming Man after being continuously being prompted to give it an airing by an audience member. Everyone expected a couple of Smiths songs to be thrown in here and there, but the devout fanatics amongst the crowd were understandably shocked and delighted at the same time when Marr burst into 1987 b-side, London. One of The Smiths’ brashest efforts, it eased its way into the set and left the crowd wondering what other surprises he had up his sleeve.
One of The Messenger‘s undoubted highlights in the anthemic Generate! Generate! and playing it alongside the album’s title track, Marr came into his own and proved that there is much more to seeing him live than the occasional Smiths song. Although, following I Want The Heartbeat came a moment worth the ticket price alone. All night long shouts of “Bigmouth” could be heard from the crowd and when Marr pronounced that he “liked playing old ones,” a silence came over the Brudenell in anticipation. The unmistakable intro of Bigmouth Strikes Again, began and pandemonium ensued. Again, he captured the song perfectly with his vocals giving it the authenticity of the original, while the lightening pace at which he flew through it injected new life into one of the band’s most recognisable and definitive singles. Album closers New Town Velocity and World Starts Attack drew the set to a halt and a grateful Marr couldn’t thank the crowd enough for the adulation they’d shown him throughout the night.
The band returned for an encore and Marr was clearly enjoying himself as he again harked back to Electronic, his former side project with New Order and Joy Division‘s Bernard Sumner, with their debut single Getting Away With It given a surprise airing and injecting some dance vibes into the night. The evening was reaching its climax and excitement levels were through the roof with the crowd knowing that Marr’s set would be brought to an epic end with one of The Smiths most distinguishable releases. Arguably featuring Marr’s most iconic guitar work, How Soon Is Now? left the crowd speechless, sounding as relevant and refreshing as it did in 1984.
These warm-ups gigs offered Marr the chance to road-test his new material to the already adoring masses, it was almost a case of preaching to the converted, but he proved that his solo work can stand proudly alongside the timeless Smiths classics, and if justification was ever needed for his Godlike Genius crown, this was it.