If you’re an Australian Smiths fan, it’s been a bumper couple of months; first, there was Morrissey’s four-night stand at the Sydney Opera House as part of Vivid and now Johnny Marr’s hit town as a solo act for the second time in two years.
Best known throughout his post-Smiths career as a journeyman guitar-slinger, Marr’s emergence as a solo artist in recent years has possibly been the last thing many would have expected.
However, here he is, having released two albums in the same amount of years – 2013’s The Messenger and 2014’s Playland – playing with an energy that many musicians half his age fail to muster.
The solo material owes much to the spikey, frenetic new wave of bands like the Buzzcocks, Talking Heads and Blondie. These influences further come to the fore when presented live, especially on ‘The Right Thing Right’ and ‘Generate! Generate!’. The band’s aesthetic also owes much to the same era.
‘Easy Money’ is driven by a super- catchy riff while delivering an acerbic critique of capitalism. Showing he is ever the versatile songsmith, Marr shifts out of a string of punchy numbers into the plaintive, spacey ‘New Town Velocity’.
Smiths classic ‘Panic’ and it’s much-loved ‘hang the DJ’ chant arrives early in the set. It sits well with the punchy solo tracks that book end it.
It’s interesting to hear Marr sing tracks like ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ and ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, the lyrics of which seem so associated with Morrissey’s sharp, caustic mind that it’s near-impossible to believe anyone else singing them. However, whereas Morrissey often veers very close to the region of self-parody, Marr delivers them with an air of steadfast defiance.
The pulsating disco of ‘Getting Away With it’ by Electronic (another of Marr’s great collaborations, teaming with New Order’s Bernard Sumner) finds the Enmore bathed in mirror-ball light. ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ closes out the main set, with Marr and audience loudly celebrating the concept of togetherness in death.
The beautifully melancholic ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ opens the encore, followed by another burst of pop punk in the form of ‘Dynamo’.
Marr’s reading of Depeche Mode’s ‘I Feel You’, released as a seven inch for Record Store Day this year, feels even sleazier and primal when performed live. Its darkness makes a great segue into ‘How Soon Is Now?’. Forever an anthem for the alienated, the loners and the others, even when hearing it surrounded by hundreds of people, it has the power to hit home hard. It’s only right that it’s the last song of the night.
While some will forever be hoping for a Smiths reunion that is unlikely to ever come, fans should be grateful that the band’s two main protagonists are still channelling their various eccentricities into the music they make. Having spent most of the last 25 years vehemently trying to avoid being pinned down to his past, Marr now seems comfortable enough to include songs from his former group in with his current incarnation without it feeling like a great weight is holding him (and the audience) back from the possibilities of the future.
As he ever was, Johnny Marr’s someone that works on his own terms and that’s what makes this show so enjoyable.