By John Curley
Johnny Marr’s North American tour, which was unfortunately delayed by visa issues, kicked off in grand style on Wednesday night, May 1st, with a raucous, rocking and rip-roaring show at Montclair, New Jersey’s Wellmont Theater. Marr and his terrific backing band—James Doviak (guitar, keyboards and backing vocals), Iwan Gronow (bass and backing vocals) and Jack Mitchell (drums)—are touring behind Marr’s 2018 album Call The Comet. The album is a great listen and features several songs that sound like they would be at home on a film soundtrack, a likely result of the film score work that Marr has done over the years.
The setup at the Wellmont Theater for Marr’s concert featured standing room on the floor and seating in the large balcony. Unlike many venues, the Wellmont does not feature a security pit in front of the stage. Fans were able to stand right in front of the stage. Marr, who appeared to be in very good spirits and obviously relieved that the visa issues had been worked out, seemed to really enjoy being in such proximity to the fans. When Marr wasn’t singing, he often moved to the lip of the stage to be as close to the fans as possible. And the audience, cheering throughout, appreciated that.
Marr, performing without an opening act, took the stage to synth music and a dry-ice fog and kicked into “The Tracers,” an atmospheric song from Call The Comet. Mitchell’s powerhouse drumming served as the foundation of the song and Marr and the band gave a tight performance. The audience, already charged up, totally erupted when Marr played the first notes of the next song, The Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” The performance of the song was absolutely incredible, with Marr and the band feeding off the considerable energy from the crowd at the front of the stage. The synth rock of “Armatopia” followed. A non-album single, “Armatopia,” released in February of this year, sounds like a long-lost, very cool song from the 1980s. Marr and company delivered a stellar performance of it.
Marr discussed the visa issues that had delayed the tour. While he joked about it, it was clear that he was still displeased about the snafu and that he blamed the Trump administration for it.
The tight and excellent performance of the somewhat mellow “Day In Day Out” featured fantastic guitar work by Marr and showed how well the four musicians work together. They then segued into the electronica of “New Dominions,” a Kraftwerk-like song that featured Mitchell on electric drums. A majestic version of “Hi Hello” that featured Marr in strong voice followed.
The crowd went into a near frenzy when Marr and the band performed an incendiary version of The Smiths’ “The Headmaster Ritual.” Marr provided some fretwork fireworks on the song. It was one of many highlights of the show. The shimmering “Walk Into The Sea” was up next. It started out somewhat quietly and built in strength to become a full-on rocker. One of the loudest and most sustained ovations of the evening went to the performance of The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” Marr and Doviak provided searing guitar work as the crowd sang along in full voice throughout. The crowd’s high energy level sustained through the performance of the bass-heavy “Getting Away With It,” an Electronic song from 1989. The crowd sang along again and marveled at Marr’s mastery during the extended guitar break.
A rocking version of “Hey Angel” kept the crowd involved and energetic, and they roared at Marr’s fantastic work in the guitar break. The slower, atmospheric Smiths song “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” built up over time to get heavier. It featured nice work on the keyboard by Doviak to begin and end the song. The mellow “Spiral Cities” was highlighted by the guitar work of Marr and Doviak. The bass-heavy Electronic song “Get The Message” featured Marr in strong voice. The performance of the 1991 song was nice and smooth and made it sound as fresh and new as it did when it was released. “Easy Money,” a solo track that has become a fan favorite, was up next and it featured a very tight performance by the band, a strong vocal by Marr and a singalong by the crowd.
Before completing the main set, Marr spoke to the crowd and asked for requests. When someone yelled for The Smiths’ “This Charming Man,” Marr played a bit of it and then stopped, joking that he no longer knew how to play it. When Marr and company then played the full version of the song, Marr sang some of it while holding the microphone and then resumed playing guitar for the last third of the song. The crowd, going wild, sang along for the length of the song.
Following a brief interval, Marr and the band returned to the stage for the encore. They began with a tight performance of the anti-right-wing anthem “Rise,” the powerful opener from Call The Comet.
Marr then talked about the show being the opening night of the tour and again discussed the visa issues that had prevented the band from entering the United States. He said that “the boss” (apparently President Trump) was to blame for the problem and joked that for the next North American slate of shows, the band would make it over for the full tour even if they had to swim. The crowd loved it.
The excellent and rocking “Bug,” another Call The Comet song that comments on current affairs, followed, and it was highlighted by Marr’s frenetic fretwork. After Marr introduced the band, they completed the show with two Smiths songs, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby.” On the former, Marr stopped singing for certain bits to let the crowd take the lead vocal. And they did, with great gusto. The stellar guitar work by Marr and Doviak was the highlight of the latter.
As the rest of the band left the stage, Marr lingered for a bit to shake hands with some in the crowd at the front of the stage. He then departed to a deafening roar. The 105-minute show had featured a 16-song main set and a four-song encore.
Marr’s current North American tour runs through May 21st, with the final date taking place in Los Angeles. Full tour dates can be found in the Tour section of Marr’s Web site at https://johnnymarr.com/.
The setlist was as follows:
Bigmouth Strikes Again (The Smiths song)
Day In Day Out
The Headmaster Ritual (The Smiths song)
Walk Into The Sea
How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths song)
Getting Away With It (Electronic song)
Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me (The Smiths song)
Get The Message (Electronic song)
The Charming Man (The Smiths song)
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (The Smiths song)
You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby (The Smiths song)