by Jeff Vasey
Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr

@ The Phoenix, Toronto

April 27, 2013

I’ve always thought of Johnny Marr the way I think of Mick Jones, as a revered writer and collaborator who’s never been prolific, or confident enough, to tolerate the sustained spotlight of being a front man. However, with the release of this year’s The Messenger, Marr has been changing many minds, including mine. It’s a record that combines many of the styles and influences you’d expect, but also showcases a more-assured Marr taking his musical legacy by the throat and dragging it further around the map than most expected. However, I was still slightly skeptical, knowing the extent that I’ve seen turds polished in a modern studio, about how true the album is to Marr’s live performances.

Live Marr was even better. Opening with “The Right Thing Right”, (The Messenger) the vocals were deservedly front and centre, and showcased a swagger that might’ve surprised some still pining over The Smiths. However, Marr quickly won over those fans, following it with “Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before”, (Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987) allowing his own voice to give the song a little more punch.

Marr proceeded to play nearly all of The Messenger, a healthy mitt-full of The Smiths’ songs, as well as touching on other projects like Electronic. I’m sure a portion of the audience was grateful that Marr is so gifted at mimicking Morrisey’s vocals, especially on songs like “Big Mouth Strikes Again”, and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”. But I preferred when he allowed his own voice to leak through, balancing the yearning with a little testosterone.

Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew joined the band for an encore of The Clash’s cover “I Fought The Law”, which was easily the most animated reaction from the crowd. But equally heartening was seeing that new songs like “I Want The Heartbeat”, “Generate! Generate!” and “Upstarts” received as warm a reception as several of The Smiths songs, including closer “How Soon Is Now?” (Meat Is Murder, 1985).

With a career as extensive and influential as Marr’s, and the audience inevitably split between a fine new record and nostalgia, you can’t help think of the old adage “You can’t please everyone”. However on this night, Marr proved it wrong.

– Jeff Vasey

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