The Ritz, Manchester
Friday 22nd March
For an artist with such experience and legendary status amongst guitarists, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that Johnny Marr has only just released his first ‘proper’ solo album. He’s practically performed in as many bands as he’s influenced (hint: a lot), but only now has Ardwick’s finest taken centre stage. On this bitterly cold night in the heart of Manchester, the warmth of his reception is felt in every corner of the historic venue.
Kicking off proceedings with The Messenger’s opening track, ‘The Right Thing Right’, he commands the stage and looks every bit the frontman, impeccably dressed and strumming his Fender Jaguar like it’s an extension of his own body. It’s been a year and a half since he aired some of this new material at The Deaf Institute, and it’s received really well by a capacity crowd at the Ritz. Marr’s trademark jangly riffs and catchy arpeggios are beautifully executed on ‘European Me’, and the soaring intro to ‘Lockdown’ is spine-tinglingly good.
“It was actually here that I officially became a musician, in 1982” he recalls between songs, “in some band you won’t have heard of”. Although a little surreal seeing, or rather hearing, Smiths classics sung by someone other than Morrissey, Marr’s vocals more than stand up to the challenge. Having spent the best part of 20 years escaping the shadows of The Smiths’ mighty success, he now seems happier than ever to hark back to those gloomy days of Thatcher’s Britain, playing crowd-pleaser ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ and, to everyone’s surprise, a fierce rendition of cult classic ‘London’. Later in the night, he launches into ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ and sends the crowd into a frenzy, reminding us all why NME crowned him Godlike Genius. Not that we needed reminding.
It’s a testament to Marr’s song-writing ability that the new material is just as eagerly lapped up by the crowd. ‘The Messenger’’s punchy opening riff is delivered with typical Marr flair, whilst the slower ‘New Town Velocity’, a poignant number about the romanticism of youth, showcases a real depth and diversity to his music. It’s a quality record, hopefully the first of many, and it sounds even better live; but the night is only ever going to end one way: an encore of fan-favourites ‘How Soon Is Now?’ and the ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, performed with a fervency that sends an already delirious crowd into pandemonium.
If Marr’s position as a frontman was ever in doubt before tonight, then consider those doubts quashed in emphatic fashion. He’s a magician with a guitar, a godlike genius, and quite possibly the coolest Mancunian of all time.