Live Report: Johnny Marr – eventim Apollo, London

A very special...

As Johnny Marr’s Spirit Power tour goes around the UK the British guitar and songwriting master shows the sky really is the limit. 

The Manchester bred musician and producer has been going above and beyond, and each time he raises the level of ambition, always assessing previous efforts.

The “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny fuckin Marr” chants never go out of fashion at his shows. Rightly so. The west London venue is ideal for tonight’s event. A feted 20 tracks comprising of the artist’s decade long portfolio, blended with a generous handful of Smiths catalogue. If prior to this gig there is an argument to suggest the alluring ‘80s evergreens no longer are needed, it evaporates and is soon forgotten, such is the magnitude of the crowd response to the classic tracks. 

The sold-out Hammersmith show is a feast of inventive guitar music, showmanship and crisp live production. The size of the place helps too – a chunky five thousand capacity – contributing to the sense of elevation, bigger definitely is better in this instance. 

The pulsating ‘Sensory Street’ opens the set, it’s a stirring rendition that focuses minds before the attentive audience pick up on the guitar and drum led intro to ‘Panic’. It’s an enticing part one, as the electrifying ‘Generate! Generate!’ builds links to the next part of the set.  

The illustrious electro pop statement of ‘Spirit Power and Soul’ emphasises the range and depth of the solo career, a path that has seen the musician stretch himself, adopting fresh production techniques, adding to an ever growing list of influences and the constant pushing of boundaries. 

A move on to acoustic guitar is the indication of a shift being due, and intimacy is created with the retrospective looking, reflective vibe of ‘New Town Velocity’. Emotionally tender, the delivery changes the mood for the duration of the song. 

Versatility is the underlying driver, however, as an effortless switch to ‘This Charming Man’ is made and massive cheers are heard in the space. 

Thoughtfully distributed across the set, virtuous solos come at attractive frequency. Supremely melodic, they are immersive, which isn’t news yet the direct spotlight, the more focused lighting design, seems to be. 

Keeping the conversation light-hearted and easy “here is a new one. Don’t be scared. It’s ok, it’s not shit”, he teases, as laughter is audible. The song in question is the infectious, rather seamless ‘Somewhere’. It is a treat. 

A highlight of the night is when friend and collaborator Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys takes the stage. Their energetic cover of David Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’ is a magnificent surprise, a pinch me moment. 

Seeing the chemistry is one thing, hearing the sound is something else. The two have worked together, maintained their friendship for more than thirty years. Released in 1989, Neil Tennant cowrote and sang on debut single ‘Getting Away With It’ by Electronic, Marr and Bernard Sumner’s popular project. 

A splendid way to revisit the past, this rendition astonishes. When Marr plays the familiar solo, Tennant cites the year 1989, which he then goes on to repeat. A special example of the collaboration.  

Sadly, the best performances do not go on and on, the time has come to wrap things up. “I want to dedicate this one to everybody here tonight and nobody fucking else”, he states, and Smiths anthem ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ follows.

More than a decade on from the release of debut album ‘The Messenger’ the guitarist continues his creative reign on a journey that is so compelling.

Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credits –
Johnny Marr: Riaz Gomez
Johnny Marr + Neil Tennant: Joe Horridge

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