By John Curley
The British music publication NME named Johnny Marr its recipient of the 2013 Godlike Genius award at its annual awards show earlier this year. High praise, indeed. And Marr showed why that honor was bestowed upon him with a fantastic show at Irving Plaza in New York City on Thursday, May 2nd.
Since the dissolution of The Smiths over a quarter of a century ago, Marr has served as a guitar-for-hire in numerous bands, including The Pretenders, Electronic, Modest Mouse, and The Cribs. Marr released his first proper solo album, which is titled The Messenger, in February of this year. Marr took on the new role of lead vocalist for the album. Based on his performance at Irving Plaza, Marr has taken to the frontman task with great relish. While his singing voice is not as resonant as Morrissey’s, Marr proves to be a more-than-capable lead vocalist. And Marr’s lifestyle as a vegan and regular runner is paying dividends, as his performance on stage is quite energetic. When he was wasn’t required to be at the microphone singing, Marr was all over the stage, producing spectacular guitar pyrotechnics and striking guitar-hero poses.
The material from The Messenger proves Marr to be a talented songwriter. Particular standouts among the album tracks performed at the concert were the title track, “Upstarts,” “Lockdown,” and the moving “New Town Velocity,” a song that recounts the day that Marr decided to leave school for good at the age of 15.
While the songs from The Messenger were quite well received by the packed house at Irving Plaza, it was the older material from Marr’s days with The Smiths that received the biggest cheers. “Bigmouth Strikes Again” got a deafening roar from the crowd, while “How Soon Is Now?” brought the house down. Marr and his band managed to replicate the incredible intro to “How Soon Is Now?” quite well in the live environment. Their cover of The Crickets’ “I Fought The Law,” which was performed with every bit of the ferocity of The Clash’s cover version, also elicited big cheers from the crowd.
Marr’s performance was aided by his great backing band, The Healers, which include: James Doviak on guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals; Iwan Gronow on bass and backing vocals; and Jack Mitchell on drums. Marr and The Healers were on stage for 85 minutes, playing a 15-song main set and three-song encore.
Opening the show with a 30-minute set were Alamar, an act featuring Meredith Sheldon on guitar and lead vocals. Augmented by Jennifer Turner on bass and a drum machine, Sheldon performed a set of ethereal rock that was very well received by the audience.
The setlist for Johnny Marr’s show at Irving Plaza on Thursday, May 2nd was as follows:
The Right Thing Right
Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before (The Smiths song)
Sun And Moon
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (The Smiths song)
Forbidden City (Electronic song)
London (The Smiths song)
Bigmouth Strikes Again (The Smiths song)
Word Starts Attack
New Town Velocity
I Want The Heartbeat
I Fought The Law (The Crickets cover)
Getting Away With It (Electronic song)
How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths song)