Johnny Marr Shines on His Own at the Fillmore, 4/13/13
Better than: Waiting for Morrissey to reschedule.
While health issues have prompted singer Morrissey to continually cancel a string of shows in the Bay Area, Johnny Marr, his former partner in the Smiths, came to San Francisco over the weekend to deliver much of the music that fans have been missing. In an 18-song set at the Fillmore, Marr not only served up most of his new solo album The Messenger, but five classic songs by The Smiths.
Marr appeared slim and healthy and cut a stylish figure. Morrissey has always further distanced himself from fans with his cheeky between-song banter, but Marr used these moments to express how much fun he was having playing for us.
And while Marr has said he's made a conscious effort to expand his sound on The Messenger, it's testament to his longtime consistency as an artist that, without aping them at all, these songs sounded very comfortable alongside the tunes by the Smiths. That doesn't mean people weren't air-guitaring and losing their minds more for songs like "Bigmouth Strikes Again," "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out," and "London," but the whole arrangement of the night felt rather seamless.
Marr has enjoyed a musically diverse career following the breakup of the Smiths in 1987. He's worked with bands such as the Pretenders, the The, Modest Mouse, and the Cribs, and released an album with his band the Healers in 2003. This time working and creating well outside of the Morrissey/Marr axis reflects in the breadth of songs on The Messenger. Dear Moz would not likely sound good on fast, taut numbers like "I Want The Heartbeat" and "Sun & Moon." The two former bandmates have aged very differently, and it's lovely to hear Marr's take from the sunnier side of the street.
After a brief moment offstage, Marr came back out for an encore wearing one of the brilliant "Johnny Fuckin Marr" T-shirts that were the highlight of options at the merch booth. It wasn't until the chorus rang out that we realized that he was playing a lo-fi version of "Getting Away With It," his hit from Electronic (the collaboration with New Order singer Bernard Sumner). Morrissey and Sumner are some of the most distinctive singers that England has offered up, but Marr is a surprisingly pleasant vocalist who was able to still do justice to these records.
Longtime Marr pal Billy Duffy, the showy guitarist best known for his turn in The Cult, joined Marr onstage for the last two songs, including a cover of The Clash's arrangement of "I Fought The Law." Duffy wielded a giant white guitar and added original ad-libs to the winsome closer, the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?"
While that song explored the pain and loneliness of solitude, Johnny Marr proved a confident and polished solo artist at The Fillmore.
Personal bias: Obsessed with the Smiths as a kid, I saw them perform live at the Greek Theatre when I was 12 years old.
Random detail: Just after I told Facebook that the venue's lack of ventilation would probably be the death of me someday, Marr announced, "It's hot as hell in here!"
By the way: Read our interview with Johnny Marr for more insight into his new solo effort.