Johnny Marr’s solo record ‘The Messenger’ has been met with warm critical response, with many publications lauding it as his best work since The Smiths. Marr’s greatest successes are inevitably going to hang over him in whatever he does, no matter how long ago, and there is no greater citation of this than the reviews he has been receiving for ‘The Messenger’ which constantly refer to The Smiths as a means of comparison. What is more interesting is how he fares in a live setting and the choice he has between embracing or ignoring his past, a decision many have struggled with before him.
The consummate professional, Johnny Marr takes to the stage on time and looking his darned finest at an atmospheric, sold out Shepherd's Bush Empire. Marr kicks off proceedings with album opener ‘The Right Thing Right’ which is met by a static but enthusiastic crowd who soon liven up with the nights first trawl ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’. The show dangerously stagnates early on as ‘Upstarts’ and ‘Sun & Moon’ – two of the more average tracks to come from ‘The Messenger’ – are played back to back with classic Electronic number ‘Forbidden City’ and another album track ‘European Me’ doing little to quell this.
Proceedings do begin to pick up, title track ‘The Messenger’ is a borderline anthem that could easily have been pulled out of the nineties. The vocal is something of a tuneful Ian Brown steeped in reverb which whilst not always working in Marr’s favour throughout the show, is a positive prominence on this number, adding to the heartfelt melancholia and emulating the excellent cut on the recording. ‘Generate! Generate!’ is a lively, punchier punk driven burst and is met with an excellent reaction from the Shepherd's Bush faithful. Pandemonium then ensues as Marr launches into The Smiths classic ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ to a raucous applause. From here on in the show takes on a new life and a new energy with ‘New Town Velocity’ and ‘Word Starts Attack’ sharing an edge to their delivery and showcasing a merging of Marr’s signature sound and an innovative and much more novel psychedelic flourish.
The biggest thrills of the night are reserved for the encore where Marr sums up his brilliance and all of the sentiments of his guitar noodling in three songs. ‘Getting Away With It’ from his Electronic days is still a tireless beast with a killer chorus. ‘How Soon Is Now?’ is perhaps Marr’s finest guitarist achievement but special mention must be reserved for a particularly strong vocal performance. The curtain closes with ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ and with the climax of this hat trick we are served with a reminder of his genius songwriting abilities. Despite the show having its fair share of hit and miss, Marr knows how to play to his strengths and as time passed the performance gathered more and more momentum. The Smiths legacy is present in a frequent smattering of quiffs upon young heads, but if anything this shows that the most glorious part of Marr’s legacy will be a light that never goes out.
Words by Bill Williams
Photos by Rachel Lipsitz