“This week is the first time I’ve been out of the house in two years,” Johnny Marr tells the crowd at Camden’s sold-out Electric Ballroom on the final night of his run of intimate UK gigs. “Well, except for writing a record and doing a film.”
Oh Johnny, the King Of Understatement. The record he’s referring to is the sprawling and expansive double album ‘Fever Dreams Pt.1-4’ (due out next year) and the movie is a little flick about this reckless spy bloke called James Bond (Marr wrote the score for the upcoming No Time To Die with Hans Zimmer). The former Smiths guitarist is emerging from lockdown in one of the most prolific periods of his colourful career. Tonight, he’s set on showcasing the fruits of his labour – as well as giving the indieheads a ruddy good night out.
He opens with new number ‘Hideaway Girl’, which rumbles along with a slick desert rock drive and some bittersweet summery goth vibes, akin to The Cure or Siouxsie And The Banshees. Then comes the first ‘hold-me-tight-and-cry-sing-with-me’ moment of the night as he rushes into The Smiths’ ‘Panic’. It’s a balance of new and old that rules the show tonight, and both sides prove quite the thrill.
The new songs seem to carry Marr’s legacy and influences quite comfortably, but with more than enough bite and ideas for them to avoid leaning too heavily on nostalgia. Recent single ‘Spirit, Power & Soul’ lands well, with its updated New Order-style dose of Manchester dancefloor dark euphoria, before ‘Tenement Time’ simmers with a Joy Division menace before blooming into an arena-rock banger.
‘Night & Day’ boasts one of Marr’s signature kaleidoscopic guitar lines, but it’s taken to wonderful new places by ravey rhythms and a super playful chorus, while ‘Rubicon’ offers the most interesting departure; it’s a slow and brooding post-rock soundscape worthy of Sigur Ros or Explosions In The Sky. ‘Sensory Street’ takes a stroll down the pop-noir path of Eurythmics and Depeche Mode before rushing into new, joyous future-pop terrain. And ‘Counter Clock World’ is the closest Marr’s ever come to a summer radio anthem.
Despite the heavy rotation of new stuff, it never feels self-indulgent with so many bangers proving a tonic – try not to smile when someone plays Electronic‘s halcyon ‘Get The Message’ or ‘Getting Away With It’. Tracks from Marr’s renaissance solo period of the last decade (especially ‘Walk Into The Sea’, ‘Hi Hello’ and ‘Easy Money’) sit comfortably among his canon, too. Tonight’s choice Smiths cuts (particularly ‘How Soon Is Now’, ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ and ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’) are played with as much – or perhaps more – fire than the last time the band played the Ballroom (which was 1983, he informs us).
The oldies are enough to scratch an itch, but that’s not what tonight is about. If you want a Smiths tribute show, you can always go see Blossoms and Rick Astley in a couple of weeks. Johnny Fucking Marr is far more concerned about what’s next.
Johnny Marr played:
Spirit Power and Soul
Night and Day
Get the Message
This Charming Man
Getting Away With It
The Headmaster Ritual
Walk Into The Sea
How Soon Is Now?
There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
Counter Clock World
Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
Bigmouth Strikes Again