An inspired heavy rock band...
“Go on, Johnny!” yelp the crowd. The older ex-[a]Smiths[/a] fans will him on. The lads looking for a first-time fix of the legend ogle his fretboard. The guitar stars who’ve inherited his classic moves and re-configured his riffs study at his feet again. And up onstage, the ’80s god of swagger’n’twang plants his flares apart, holds his guitar erect and fights to out-distance his suffocatingly iconic status.
Watching the man who (at the right hand of Moz) saved the mid-’80s on the road again at 36, it’s clear why he waited 13 years, studio-ing it out with [a]Electronic[/a], before making his live band statement. The weight of history around Marr is such that even now it’s hard for the music to take flight.
Downstairs they mumble about whether his more melodic stuff in The S****s wasn’t preferable to the metal- edged inclinations of the Healers. Upstairs there are enough stellar fans and axe-star pupils to make tonight more of an orgy of Britrock cultural incest than a gig.
Marr‘s barrage-blast headfuck-friendly band plough into the opening ‘Bangin’ On’, and Noel Gallagher peers down to see a guy who looks like him and moves like him customising the Mancunian-ised beat pop of Oasis, driven forward by the slam stickery of the son of the drummer in The Beatles, Zak Starkey. It’s not surprising given the ‘close family’ nature of proceedings that the Healers frequently sound like a heavy rock band playing ‘Paperback Writer’.
An inspired heavy rock band, though. Billy ‘Cult’ Duffy (Manc riff posse also) watches approvingly. Bernard Butler follows the Marr straggly fade-out solos closely. As dark neo-prog moves into glutinous Byrds-isms, Marr‘s metal mantra psychedelic ambitions become more apparent. Snappy pop is not on the agenda, and the man is wisely vocally effacing enough to let the singing coast in the mix. It’s a sonic plateau thing, see. Eno-of-the-underground keyboardist Lee Spencer fills the background with electronic scree, Adam Gray comes on all Stonesy with the second guitar, and ex-Kula Shaker bassist Alonza Bevin revels in his post-psychedelia-lite role.
So if tunes like ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ and ‘Comin On Ready Or Not’ are hard to differentiate between, that’s ‘cos Marr‘s mind has seemingly levitated to another level of creativity since the distant days of ‘This Charming Man’. He still throws the classic shapes. But tellingly, he dedicates one powerfully churning wig-out to [I]The Doors Of Perception[/I] author Aldous Huxley. Mid-encores, the band grind into a particularly dirty version of Iggy And The Stooges‘ ‘I Need Somebody’. And there’s even a moment where Marr permits himself a mid-tune Native American war cry.
If Marr‘s battle since The Smiths has been to batter down the doors of other people’s perceptions, he’s found a mighty weapon to do just that. Midlife crisis officially averted.