Johnny Marr @ The Orange Peel 11-20-13

The Marr-quee… I'm shameless

The Marr-quee… I’m shameless

Last night I did something I never expected would happen. I saw Johnny Marr in concert. Fortunately, Morrissey wasn’t anywhere near the stage. You see, I’m hardly a Smiths fan, but for reasons having everything to do with their lead singer. I remember reading about The Smiths far in advance of hearing them and the hype made my Spidey-sense® tingle; not in a good way. When I finally heard them on MTV with the cobbled together video for “How Soon Is Now” I was intrigued, but not stunned.

The guitar work was stellar with heavily tremoloed Bo Diddley riffs scraping against mournful, train whistle atmospheres. I was less sure of the vocals. But when The Smiths relented and agreed to make videos after that one escaped in The States courtesy of Sire Records, I quickly learned that Morrissey was one vocalist whose repellent, strangulated croon that he saw fit to inject into every space in the not unattractive music would make me turn a deaf ear to The Smiths. And the heaviness of “How Soon Is Now” was an atypical B-side that their US label had [rightly] latched onto. So I moved on, ultimately unmoved.

It was not until after the band broke up when I began to hear covers of their songs that I came to appreciate, in retrospect, the brilliance of the songs in other’s mouths. Whatever Morrissey’s failings for me as a singer, I could not deny that his was the most brilliant lyrical pen of the 80s. The music that Marr brought to the equation gave these lyrics an attractive setting that more than matched their dazzle. Of course, after they broke up guitarist Marr wasted no time in hooking up with singers I liked: Bryan Ferry, Matt Johnson, Bernard Sumner, Neil Tennant. Many of these recordings reside properly in my Record Cell.

When Marr finally released his debut solo album thirty years after The Smiths released their debut single, a friend of mine championed the album, and made certain to send me a copy as a birthday present. The album was a corker, with a rock solid program of winning material that has already occupied my headspace to the extent of waking up this week with the songs already playing in my cranium. With Marr coming to The Orange Peel how could I not go?


Johnny Marr on the Orange Peel stage in Asheville, North Carolina

The show was opened by Massachusetts’ Meredith Sheldon. She played guitar with a second guitarist providing rhythm and atmospheres for her to play off of. Her songs were a nod in the direction of Mazzy Star’s viscous dreampop albeit not as soporific, and her vocals were strong and unaffected. Nothing at all like Hope Sandoval. She reminded me vocally of Aimee Mann and gave the evening a great start. I later noticed that her backup band member on second guitar was apparently a roadie* for the show as well when he was doing bass tech work after Sheldon’s set.

At ten sharp the show got underway after the between set music revealed such delights as Bowie’s “Breaking Glass;” a song that one never hears in public enough, if you ask me. Cutting a vibrant figure, Marr kicked the show off with “The Messenger’s” irresistible opener “The Right Thing Right.” This was followed by a Smiths’ number; “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before.” The cat was out of the bag straight up front. In a town where Morrissey had cancelled his show [for the same venue] three times in the last seven years one might assume that there was pent up demand. Never having spent too much time in the company of Morrissey fans, I can only report that Marr alone got the love with many enthusiastic fans seemingly not missing His Royal Mozzness.

Next it was time for the song that has been playing in my skull all week long. I love “Upstarts!” The melody is an extraordinary thing that leaps like a gazelle in an arrangement that avoids all taint of cliché. There are several songs worth of invention folded into the recipe here, and it makes for an appealing flavor.

Before playing “The Crack Up” Marr asked how many in attendance had “The Messenger” and about a third of the six hundred or so hands of the audience poked up. “Good,” he said. “Then some of you will know this is called ‘The Crack Up'” he exclaimed before ripping into the number.

Then it was time for another Smiths number to pace the set. I recognize and love “Panic” via the great cover by “Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine” from their single of “The Only Living Boy In New Cross.” With the audience singing alone to the “hang the DJ” coda, Marr moved into the lush atmospheric single “New Town Velocity,” the song that hews the closest to The Smiths template on the album. After a program of rockers, the ballad made a needed change of pace.

As much as I’m obsessed with “Upstarts,” I’m equally obsessed with the dreamy title track to the Marr album. During this song only, drummer Jack Mitchell left his main kit for a small electric standup kit adjacent to his main drums where he played the ca. 1984 drums so crucial to the middle eight where everything but the drums and Iwan Gronow’s bass dropped out of the mix for a bar, dub style. Anyone who lived through this period [See: “I Love A Man In Uniform” by Gang Of Four] will recognize the crucial correctness of this sound. Not surprisingly, I was one of the handful who responded to this as it was happening to clap in synch with the drums.

“Generate! Generate!” picked up the pace following the dreamy tributary of “Say Demesne” with some pulse-quickening rock. The next Smiths song was one that was completely unfamiliar. If it wasn’t a single with a video on MTV I simply never heard it. Even then, I might have changed the channel, so “Bigmouth Strikes Again” has zero resonance with me. All I ever knew of it was that was the title.

Johnny Marr - my generation's Jimmy Page

Johnny Marr – my generation’s Jimmy Page

Fortunately, this lapse [to me anyway] was followed by two scorchers from “The Messenger.” “Word Starts Attack” and “I Want The Heartbeat” were full of vigor and as if to prove my point, the latter saw Marr pogoing while playing his solo to later quip “that was fun!” Agreed, sir.

It was now time for the big finish which saw “How Soon Is Now” played to a rapt audience. This was always one of the biggest Smiths songs in America and the crowd was swept away in 1985 nostalgia. Myself, I liked the touches of dub the soundman worked into the mix to make this seem even more massive than the already monumental original recording. With that, the guitarist winked and said “I’ll see you later” as the band exited the stage for a minute or two before Marr returned sans band for an extended “Please, Please, Please Let me Get What I Want,” that frankly I failed to recognize for the several minutes of its long instrumental buildup. Now that I think about it, this is the only Smiths song by the group in my Record Cell, since I think I own a copy of the “Pretty In Pink” OST, though I can’t remember playing it much at all.

The evening had seen Marr play all but a single track from his new album leavened with a healthy collection of Smiths tunes. Now it was time to stretch out. Up first was the B-side to “New Town Velocity.” “The It-Switch” was a new on to my ears and if I had pocket change, I might have bought one of the autographed 7″ singles at the merch table, but cash was tight this evening.

A highlight of the evening came when the affable Marr displayed venom at the antics of habitual texters in the front row, admonishing them with sarcastic taunts of “I’m sorry, is my rock show interrupting your texting?” before bursting into a cover of “I Fought The Law” all Clash style. He then pulled out a song I had been hoping for with an extended version of “Getting Away With It,” the lone Electronic track getting an airing this evening. It was all re-arranged for guitars only, even though second guitarist James Doviak did have a synth for the occasional seasoning during the evening. It was nice to hear this material live as I always liked the singles from the Electronic debut album.

Finally, I recognized the last song from videos. I even remembered that is came from “Strangeways, Here We Come,” but had to look up the title this morning. The doomed Romanticism of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” is nothing if not a heartfelt way to wrap up a concert. With that, the band took their bows and the evening’s rock was finished. It had been a fast paced and energetic show with enough eddies of introspection to pace it all rather nicely.

The only real drawback was the mix, which occasionally bled into the red for touches of ragged sonics that did the clean, powerful music no favors. Of course, even the 90% of the sound that wasn’t distorted was too loud. So earplugs were a must. Other than that, the evening was a fun and intimate night with a genuine rock legend who in addition to being a well traveled and amiable gent who had played with countless bands, has also just staked out a claim for himself with a great record that picks up on the post-punk sound of his youth and brings it into the present day. Is he coming to your town? Even if you’re not a Smiths disciple… you should go!

Johnny Marr | The Orange Peel | November 20, 2013

  1. The Right Thing Right
  2. Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before
  3. Upstarts
  4. Sun & Moon
  5. The Crack Up
  6. Panic
  7. New Town Velocity
  8. The Messenger
  9. Lockdown
  10. Say Demesne
  11. Generate! Generate!
  12. Bigmouth Strikes Again
  13. Word Starts Attack
  14. I Want The Heartbeat
  15. How Soon Is Now?
  16. Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want
  17. The It-Switch
  18. I Fought The Law
  19. Getting Away With It
  20. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

Johnny Marr | The Messenger World Tour 2013-2014

Nov. 22 | Nashville, TN | Marathon Music Works
Nov. 23 | Atlanta, GA | The Loft
Nov. 24 | Jacksonville, FL | Freebird
Nov. 25 | Orlando, FL | The Beacham Theatre
Nov. 26 | Fort Lauderdale, FL | Culture Room

Dec. 30 | Tasmania Falls Festival
Dec. 31 | Lorne  Falls Festival
Jan. 1 | Byron Bay Falls Festival
Jan. 3 | Busselton Southbound Festival
Jan. 4 | Melbourne | Corner Hotel
Jan. 7 | Sydney | Oxford Art Factory

– 30 –

* This was in fact Marr’s son, Nile!

About postpunkmonk

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17 Responses to Johnny Marr @ The Orange Peel 11-20-13

  1. I caught Johnny Marr at Irving Plaza earlier this year (with a very similar set list)–and it was a fantastic show! His songs off “The Messenger” were much more muscular and fully-realized than they are on the album and The Smiths’ songs were simply stunning. (And this show followed Morrissey’s amazing performance that I caught at the Brooklyn Music Academy a few months prior!)


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Stephen Shafer – Leiber gott! Morrissey actually showed up for a concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music? This is news! He’s infamous in Asheville for canceling three times so far since 2006. I had no qualms with the album. It’s a hot piece of work with maybe “European Me” [the one song from the album omitted from the set list] being the only less than compelling track.


  2. Brian Ware says:

    I’m so pleased to have put all this Marr-ness in motion for you. Sounded like a glorious show. Family commitments will have me 2000 miles to the west when he’s in Orlando next week, but reading your review (and all your superb reviews) is the next best thing to being there.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Brian Ware – I may have gone to see him on principle [and as a fan of Electronic] but it is doubtful that I would have moved quickly on his album. Most likely, I would have maybe picked up a cheap used copy… 2-20 years later as I often do.


  3. Tim says:

    You have seen the Neil Finn dvd with his ubergroup that includes Mr. Marr as well as a lot of other musicians? 7 Worlds Collide or somesuch for the title. t’ sorta the spirit behind the original electronic idea, a group compromised of people taking a vacation from their day jobs. it’s probably stupid of me to ask but just in case….

    Years ago in college I lived in a flat with a couple of people. One of my housemates was dating a musician who traveled all of the time and wasn’t often around but basically lived with us when he wasn’t touring. He was only there for maybe two weeks during my time in that flat and every time I saw him he had his guitar, headphones on and was trying to master Johnny Marr’s style.
    Stop the tape player, work at the guitar, pause, rewind the tape, listen, maybe try to strum along. Stop, noodle around, rewind the tape… in day out for days.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Actually, I had not heard of that Tim Finn DVD, so it’s good that you mentioned it. One of my friends is a Split Enz collector but I think he’s years past chasing Neil Finn.


      • Brian Ware says:

        I have “Seven Worlds Collide” but have to admit it’s not something I listen to very often. Marr’s contributions are solid, but I struggle with this phase of Neil’s career. I’m a hard core collector of the classic Enz years, but felt the production on Neil’s first two solo albums often fought with his songs. I reckon his goal was to make albums that sounded nothing like Crowded House.


  4. Tim says:

    I saw an iteration of the band in the Twin Cities. Mr, Marr was not in the lineup but Lisa Germano and iirc the lads from Radiohead were present. It was a great show….saw Midnight Oil for the first time at the same benefit; they never hit my radar in the 80’s but man o man that lead singer had charisma in spades.

    By the way, the DVD for 7 Worlds Collide has a lot more material on it than the abridged cd does. Amazon used is your friend here, I see a used one sitting at a bit over $5 plus shipping.


  5. Echorich says:

    In the overall scheme of things, I’m glad that Johnny Marr is finally making music that is Johnny Marr’s and not that of someone else. I have yet to fully warm to The Messenger – Generate Generate did get my foot tapping, but it’s been a while since I last gave it an airing, so I will go back to it. I have to say that after the second Electronic album, I lost interest in his career. The second Electronic album has grown on me more and more.
    I’ll never be a Morrissey apologist. The Mozzer constantly pulls the bricks out from under his own foundation and thus gets what he deserves in print, but I have been an ongoing fan of his output.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Funnily enough, I only bought all of the CD singles from the period of the first Electronic album through “Disappointed” but never bought the album, and after that, have heard no further Electronic music. It’s a familiar tale. My collector-centric genes focus on “rarities,” b-sides and remixes, to the potential exclusion of albums. They often seem like “something to pick up later.”


      • Echorich says:

        You do realize that Karl Bartos is all over the second Electronic album Raise The Pressure… He has some writing credits and there are extras on the re-release with much more of his contribution that didn’t make the final cut…


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Yes, I knew about Bartos’ involvement. He was busy following his coming out party with “Esperanto.” But I still haven’t heard a note of Electronic that came after the great single “Disappointed.” One of these days, I suppose.


  6. Tim says:

    @Echorich, I agree on Electronic #2, a really grower and has aged quite well.
    The first album is one helluva tough act to follow.


  7. Taffy says:

    I’ve defended (and expounded on my love for) Morrissey elsewhere on your blog, so won’t go there again…but must fact check you. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out is from The Queen Is Dead, not Strangeways. Being that it is one of my ten favorite songs of all time, I simply had to wave my scolding finger at you. :)
    I was very sad to have missed Marr’s springtime Boston appearance, but alas I was DJing one of my regular gigs. I heard that show was a corker, but I am loving the solo album. Glad you enjoy it too.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – I am duly chastened! Here was the one Smiths fact I thought I didn’t have to research, and like a snake it bit me! It will be interesting to see where Johnny Marr goes from here. He’s touring the world on a great first solo album. Here’s hoping that the follow-up will be swift and sure.


  8. I’m with Echorich regarding Morrissey — I love some of his stuff, but as soon as he stops singing and starts talking — even when its not particularly controversial (which is rare) — he just no longer interests me at all. I will have to check out this Marr record …


    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – It is a good one for sure. It’ll take you back to 1982. Marr had stated that “New Wave was my rock and roll,” and really… can it be put more succinctly than that?


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