“Whenever we come to California, it smells like weed. Why doesn’t it smell like weed in here?”
Sometimes it feels like there’s no one left on Earth quite like Johnny Marr. He’s 54 years old, about to release his third solo album, and doesn’t give a guitar lick what you think about him.
Opening his first night of two sold-out shows at Los Angeles’ Teragram Ballroom, Johnny has no problem pointing out the room’s weed situation nor the “f*cking wanker” who’s our president. He’s wearing a black members’ only jacket over a pink, floral button-up shirt and for a brief moment, you almost forget that this guy was a founding member of The Smiths. But no – you couldn’t forget that. The energy in the room couldn’t let you forget it.
With hundreds of die-hard Smiths fans piled in and decked out in classic t-shirts, enamel pins, and familiar-looking haircuts, Johnny opened with the lead single “The Tracers” off his newest record, Call The Comet, which drops June 15. The cool and atmospheric hit latent with dirty guitar and synth set the tone for the night in a way only Johnny Marr knows how.
With nearly half of his hour-and-forty-five minute set devoted to new material, the guitarist held back no punches with letting the audience know exactly what was on his mind: political turmoil. Ethereal tracks like “Walk into the Sea” and “Rise” – a song about “apocalyptic optimism” – confirm that Call The Comet foresees a dark, future society fighting off issues currently plaguing the world today. Dizzying guitar and spinning lights perfectly paired with space-age-y synth sounds and moody bass as the audience let the new tracks wash over them.
Like nearly all tunes that Johnny Marr touches, each song could stand on its own in a crowded record and still be memorable. While the guitarist’s voice was in tip-top shape, the crowd couldn’t help but sing along to guitar licks instead of lyrics. The infectious melodies of new cuts “Bug” and “Actor Attractor” will surely be hits at future performances, and fit wonderfully alongside Playland’s singalong “Easy Money” and the dance romp “Boys Get Straight.”
Despite newer additions to the set, Johnny was in enough of a generous mood to ask for requests. Only after someone suggested a cover of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle” did Johnny take a moment to remind everyone of all his work in “the world of indie rock only.” He didn’t want anyone to forget that – every night – he stands up there with “a guitar, no beard, and no laptop” to do what he does.
It wasn’t long before familiar notes began to play out and fans were delighted to hear classic Smiths’ megahits “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” “Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me,” and “How Soon Is Now?” As everyone emotionally sang along, “Just shut your mouth / How can you say / I go about things the wrong way?” it was impossible to miss Johnny smile.
And with arms raised in the air, lights flashing, and everyone cheering wildly, Johnny completed the final note of “How Soon Is Now?” just before saying into the mic quite definitively, “That’s a good one.”
In case we all forgot, Johnny Marr still has it (and never didn’t).
Photos and Words by Kat Manos (Instagram)