The Smiths veteran proves his worth as a frontman

Johnny Marr

O2 Academy Glasgow  
25/10/14

On a rain-flushed Glasgow evening, we funnel into the O2 Academy and wait for support band Childhood to take the stage. The group’s performance is fairly static and blasé and not all of their reverb-sodden songs translate well to a live context, although recent single ‘As I Am’ proves a welcome burst of dreamy guitar pop. It seems to us as that the young Nottingham-based band are still in the process of becoming comfortable performers, and while (as is so often the case with support acts) Childhood’s set is plagued by low energy, we still believe there’s promise here.

Following their inconsistent showing, ex-Smiths guitarist and national treasure Johnny Marr assumes the stage and immediately wrests us out of our collective post-Childhood malaise with a rousing rendition of his new album’s title track ‘Playland’, with the letters P L A Y L A N D flashing blindingly behind the band. He then tears into Smiths staple ‘Panic’, predictably prompting cheers, applause and the pogoing about of crowds of balding and besuited middle-aged men.

Any anxieties about Marr’s ability to operate as a solo artist are dispelled pretty swiftly as it soon becomes apparent he is a natural front man, commanding the space with ease and infectious energy. His voice also sounds markedly better live than on record, where it can often seem cowed, streamlined and unmemorable. He sings clearly and occasionally ferociously, and weirdly we don’t seem to miss Morrissey from his interpretations of Smiths classics.

However, much of the solo material verges worryingly closely to what could be dismissed as lad rock, not helped by Marr’s affected Gallagher-esque swagger (we’re thinking of the rather poor ‘Generate! Generate!’ here for instance). The best of the solo songs is probably new single ‘Easy Money’, with its Modest Mouse-reminiscent guitar work and catchy chorus that perhaps recalls Paul Weller. But as anyone could have anticipated, it is the Smiths tracks that receive the best reactions from the crowd, particularly a tender rendition of ‘Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’ and a moving ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ which closes with a huge audience sing-along. Marr seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself, and his flashed smiles and camp guitar theatrics are contagious.
He’s a gracious performer, thanking the audience for braving the cold Glaswegian weather on a Monday night, and his acerbic in-between song commentary about bankers and bearded hipsters is often genuinely funny.

At the end of the evening, it feels almost surreal that we’ve just witnessed such an icon of British pop music. In his black skinny jeans and smart pink shirt, Johnny Marr convinces us his songs are timeless, and he’s just as cool as he ever was. In his words: “music isn’t dead” these days.

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