God like genius Johnny Marr puts fans on cloud nine

7 Mar 2013 @ 9.01 am
| Entertainment
Rock legend Johnny Marr kicked off his tour in York. Photographs: David J Markham
Review: Johnny Marr
Venue: The Duchess, March 5

 
A foggy night greets the audience for Tuesday nights gig at The Duchess in York. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a queue that stretches such a distance outside – round the corner of the venue but tonight is an exception. The sign outside reads SOLD OUT – for tonight there is a legend in the house. A bona fide rock and roll star with northern roots. His name ladies and gentlemen is Mr Johnny Marr.

With a new album to promote – The Messenger – tonight is the start of a 16-date UK tour. The run into the tour has been faultless – an appearance on BBC Radio 2, an interview in the New Statesman, taking the NME God Like Genius Award 2013 and the launch of his new album a week ago. Security is tight and you get the feeling there is an air of professionalism that could only ever be attached to a “big name”.

The audience is mixed. It’s not a “tough” rock and roll audience – it’s an audience that loves great music and specifically Johnny Marr music. All ages are present and there is not a single doubt that they will be polite and respectful to each other and their hero.

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Johnny Marr has always demonstrated intelligence. Intelligence in the way he played his guitar and whether you were allied to his political views or not – at least he thought about the issues of the day and was prepared to use his constituency to debate them publicly. I think people respect that and I think his audience has always reflected that too.

Dry ice starts to drift lazily across the stage and before you know it Johnny walks on to great applause. The lighting show was sparse and was largely built around four spotlights positioned behind the back line. He looks lean and wiry with jet black hair.

He looks a little older than we all remember him but hey – don’t we all. He launches into the opening track of the set and indeed the album with The Right Thing Right. A driving song – classic rock and roll. It’s a good start. The next few songs are all new and are intertwined with a song written with long time Mancunian collaborator Bernard Sumner. The band are tight and Marr has schooled them well.

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They really hit their stride in the second half of the set. Generate Generate is lively, up beat and modern. The Messenger contains beautiful chord sequences and has direction. Adopting his beloved Fender Jaguar as his weapon of choice throughout the set – we approach the “will he won’t he moment”.

He doesn’t disappoint – Bigmouth Strikes Again by The Smiths strikes up and the audience are in their element. New Town Velocity tells tales of moving out and moving on. It is the penultimate song of the set and indeed the new album. The last song is played and the set is over. It recieves justified applause and screams for more. It sets the wheels in motion for a three-song encore.

Two highlights were a version of Electronic’s Getting Away With It and The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now. True to the original version – his guitar wailed like a Banshee. Then it was done. It was a slick show.

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It was a good performance by a seasoned rock and roll veteran. Stepping into the limelight as lead vocalist can never be easy, especially when you’ve played alongside some of the greats from the last 20 years, but it was a spirited effort. His guitar skills still sparkle and it was a polished show in every respect.

The tour got off to a good start. One down 15 more to go. Go Johnny go go go…