Johnny Marr Revives The Smiths at Webster Hall

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When Jimmy Fallon introduced Johnny Marr—former Smith’s guitarist and co-writer of all of their songs—along with Morrissey, to close his Late Night show on Friday, he referred to Marr as a genuine rock star. And at his Webster Hall concert the next night, Marr lived up to that billing. His virtuosity and performing brilliance was on full display, as he finger-picked simultaneous lead/rhythms, danced, and sang every song from his very Smiths-like new album, The Messenger, as well as a song from Electronic, his post Smith’s group. He also performed an encore of The Clash’s version of “I Fought The Law,” and six Smiths songs. Marr talked to the audience in a thick Manchester accent after every song, a la McCartney.

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Most performers just stand there—but clearly influenced by the ultimate virtuoso stylist playing of George Harrison, Marr went from power chords to the jangly speed roll interplay of picked notes and chords that gave the Smiths such a unique sound. It truly drove a jaded New York City sold out crowd crazy. Everyone went nuts. Unlike Morrisey—his operatic and dramatic Smiths co-writer and former singer, who is a reluctant performer of Smiths material— Marr took a distinct pleasure in doing a six song “greatest hits” of Smiths tunes, interspersed strategically in the set for maximum effect, beginning with song number two, “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” from theStrangeways album. He proceeded to do “Panic,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” and as the song just before the encore, “How Soon is Now?”—which has transcended The Smiths to become an eternal ubiquitous hit.

For these last two Smiths songs, we were treated to a bit of a reunion, as Johnny brought out Smiths bassist Andy Rourke—or as he called him, Andy fuckin’ Rourke. It went in keeping with the hundred or so people who were wearing “Johnny Fuckin’ Marr” t-shirts they had bought at the merch table. After returning from the break, he did “Please Please Let Me get What I Want” and ended the show with the crowd favorite, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” The Clash song was next to last. Almost every other song was from his new album, and in the context of hearing all of these songs sung by a very good rock singer—other than the very operatic Morrisey—they all sounded of the same mold as the Smiths, but maybe better. It became more about the songs, the performance, and the musicianship, than about a drama queen. I over heard quite a few people saying, “Morrisey who?”

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