This past Thursday night, the Theatre at the Ace Hotel played host to legendary ex-Smiths guitar genius, Johnny Marr — or as he’s come to be known by fans and as displayed on his merch — Johnny Fucking Marr.
They adore this man like crazy and having grown up a huge Smiths fan myself, I completely understand. After all, this charming man from Manchester has been hailed as one of the greatest guitar players of all time and was a founding member of, arguably, the most influential indie rock band of the 80’s to present day. I mean, who doesn’t love The Smiths?
Johnny Marr graced the historic venue with his cool presence for a night filled with an energetic collection of songs. The sold-out crowd was treated to career-spanning set, which included a majority of the songs from his latest solo album, Call the Comet. Knowing the recipe for a successful show, he mixed in some tracks from his previous two solo albums, sprinkled in a couple more from his time with alternative dance supergroup Electronic … and of course, topped it all off with some generous treats of the world’s most cherished Smiths tunes.
Marr, now 54, was all smiles when he took the stage to the deafening cheers of the mostly fortysomething crowd. A couple of diehard fans even rushed the stage for a quick chance to touch the legend. Marr was full of energy from start to finish of the epic 20 song set, displaying a vibrant exuberance as he strutted along the stage playing his sweet custom fender jag.
The minute you hear those kaleidoscopic sounds from his pulsating guitar, you know you’re hearing the one and only Marr. It’s such an instantly recognizable, signature sound that transports you back to a different era. It was such a special atmosphere in the venue, as fans delighted in unison watching one of their most adorned idols. You could feel the overwhelming amount of love and admiration the crowd felt towards Marr. And he clearly felt it too. It was really something. The type of show where you wouldn’t feel weird to hug a stranger when your favorite song comes on.
He started the night with “Tracers”, the first single off the new album. It’s a trippy tune that Marr has said deals with a plea for an alternative society after the “failure” of capitalism and religion. Indeed, when you take a closer listen to the ambitious new album, there’s a clear underlying theme of Utopia. It’s not an overtly political album, but it’s easy to decipher the social consciousness it’s fueled by.
Next up, the opening riffs of “Big Mouth Strikes Again” elated the crowd. It was an extraordinary moment, watching everyone bursting with happiness over their love and nostalgia of this song. Marr did a great job vocally. No he’s not Morrissey, but his unassuming delivery brought a special beauty to the performance.
With each song, I felt more and more mesmerized by his subtle performance. It was my first time seeing Marr live and he’s just such a damn good guitarist, it’s unreal and he makes it look so effortless.
The third song of the set was a new one called “Jeopardy”, which you won’t find on the new album, as it was originally released as a vinyl b side to Hi, Hello. Marr released it as a single ahead of the tour. It’s a swaggering rock jam and on the chorus Marr sings out “We know how to make a memory,” a totally fitting line, given the amazing memories Marr was engraving in our minds with each song.
Marr continued to play numerous songs from Call the Comet, including “Day In Day Out”, “New Dominions”, “Walk Into The Sea”, “Bug”, and “Spiral Cities”. While every song was well received by the audience, inherently it was The Smiths material that amassed the most passionate reactions. Halfway through the set, the opening notes of “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved” me set the crowd off. The slow, emotional song is one of my favorites and I had chills hearing it performed live by Marr. He owned the song and even nailed the falsetto notes at the end. Wow. For a moment I couldn’t help but think, Morrissey who? Marr is the freakin’ man!
Marr also took time to play a couple of songs from his time in Electronic, performing “Getting Away With It” and “Get The Message”, allowing the keyboards take prominence for a bit.
My favorite track from the new album Hi Hello, proved to be a crowd pleaser, most likely because of it’s play on The Smiths smash hit There is a light that never goes out. Similar, yet still an outstanding track on it’s own, the song had everyone singing along. Hey Angel was also a stand out performance, with Marr shredding away with a bluesy guitar solo that showcased his crazy talent even more.
Towards the end of the night Marr asked the audience “do you have any requests, let me get a pencil.” Fans shouted out all their favorite Smiths songs and Marr replied to a few saying “We don’t do that song” then joked “we don’t know Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
The fans kept shouting, as Marr began playing the opening tremolo riff of “How Soon Is Now”. The crowd was ecstatic! Fans rushed the aisles to get closer. As I looked around and took in the gorgeous theatre, the joy I saw on everyones faces and the bad ass legend I was witnessing perform on stage, I thought to myself what a sacred experience this night was. Marr thanked the crowd and left the stage. The fans eagerly awaited the anticipated encore. After a couple of minutes, Marr returned to the stage.
Marr introduced his bandmates and thanked opening act The Belle Game then went straight into another new track, “Rise”. He has said this song was written shortly after the announcement of the 2016 presidential election. “It’s the dawn of the dogs,” he sings. “They hound they howl, Never let up, The fear is on.”
Marr encouraged everyone to get their phones out and ready for the next song (which they obliged) and jumped right into the song that everyone was waiting for. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” lit up the crowd even more than I thought was possible. A few more fans rushed the stage. Marr, seeing all the phones in the air, joked during a break in the song “I was kidding about the phones.” But how could you not want to capture this amazingness? Again, I had chills. It’s such a classic song that never gets old and is there a more romantic line than “to die by your side, is such a heavenly way to die.” I don’t think so!
For the final song, Marr played one last Smiths treasure, “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby”. The crowd was on a high, dancing and singing along. Marr smiles showed he felt the love. He waved and posed before exiting the stage. It was a lovely night that I will always cherish.
Words and photos by Betsy Martinez