Johnny Marr is one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, but he’s only come into his own as a solo artist in the last few years. His visit to Store Vega, however, suggests that he’s now at home in this role. Half of the set is songs from his forthcoming album, Call the Comet. You can stream a couple of the tracks now, but it’s mostly unavailable.
But Marr knows that you know him from a particular time and place (or maybe from one of the other dozen bands he’s played with in his career), and everyone in the audience seems keen just on being in his presence. They’re excited about the new material, they’re just as happy to rock out to “Easy Money” as any 80s classic.
Marr also has a very low-key personality that lends itself well to what feels more like a promotional exercise than your average tour. He has a few guitar god stances to pull, but seems to quickly become shy about them. He expresses his mixed feelings about streaming as he introduces his latest single, “Hi Hello,” asking the audience to buy it even if it’s only a bit of plastic. There is a jangle to his new songs that brings to mind his work with the Smiths, and an evident but not heavy-handed political bent that jives well with being the guy who told off David Cameron.
And there are unexpected moments such as“Getting Away With It” from his project Electronic. While he seems to reach for the notes that Bernard Sumner hits on his own, the focus on guitar compared with the atmospherics of the album version breathes a new energy into the song.
But in answer to the inevitable question,”Is he playing any Smiths songs?” the answer is yes. They are interspersed from “Big Mouth Strikes Again” as the second song to show closer “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” (sold to us as the weirdest singalong ever). It’s nice that they’re threaded throughout the set instead of presented as a block or a treat in the encore after listening to Marr’s solo work. And while his is not the voice we associate with the Smiths, he does a pretty good Morrissey impression; his voice takes on a throatier quality for those songs. And after watching Marr mess with his tuning pegs for effect while playing “How Soon Is Now,” there’s no point in ever watching any other performer fumble their way through that song again. So good news for all you Smiths fans who cringe every time Morrissey speaks: We definitely don’t need him anymore.