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Whippet Out – Johnny Marr, Glasgow ABC

Johnny Marr ;iveOne man who has made love to a million guitar parts while embodying rock and roll…went out to see Johnny Marr. What did Howlin’ Whippet think though?

That’s right, Johnny Marr is in town. Now, I’ll admit I’d only given new album The Messenger a couple of cursory listens; despite Marr himself talking up his Stooges, DIY early punk and rock n’ roll influences, the album, to these ears, was all a bit, y’know, alright. Some reviews commented on its lack of focus, dynamism and Marr’s vocals; let’s be honest, he’ll never fill Morrissey’s falsetto shoes for most critics. However, given that’s it’s over 25 years since the demise of The Smiths, Marr has certainly taken his time to find his voice.

The ABC is packed on a wild Glasgow night. A crowd made up of half young whipper-snappers (the missus points out that the front of the stage looks like a huge One Direction tribute band) and some others of my own vintage are listening in some bemusement to the onstage DJ who is clearly having some issues with the stability of his decks as road crew jog past and needles jump from grooves. Playing lesser-known cuts from ATV, X-Ray Spex, Wire, The Ramones and Buzzcocks is certainly doing it for me, but I’m not so sure about the majority.

Down go the lights and a dapper Marr takes the stage with his equally suave-looking band. Straight into the pedestrian indie-rock of The Right Thing Right and I’m still less than convinced: following this with Smiths album track Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before gets the crowd into a lather, but I’m still less than convinced of Marr as a frontman.

Then, something remarkable seems to happen.

The sound crystallises, everything becomes crisper; Marr seems to grow into himself as his voice sharpens, the band focus and it just seems to…..happen. The slower, more studied songs take on an ethereal glow. Electronic song The Eternal City is a shimmering, incendiary blaze with Marr’s guitar meshing with studio and stage foil Doviak’s honeyed Les Paul counterstrikes.

Unleashing Bigmouth Strikes Again seems appropriate given the recent self-mythologizing pronouncements of former national treasure and current incumbent in the role of bitter-and-twisted-has-been, Morrissey.  The crowd don’t care about all of that, though, and sing every word back at Marr and Co.

The Smiths classic is given a machine gun makeover and it’s clear that Marr has selected songs from the back catalogue that suit his voice. B-side London is dusted off and sounds like The Velvets meeting a nuclear meltdown. Any hint of twee floral-ness is left in the dust of Marrs’ scything power chords.

As expected, the show is a masterclass in guitar playing. At one point, Marr is lost in the vibrato avalanche of How Soon Is Now and doing that head-swivelling, shoulder-nodding thing that was so much a feature of his Smiths days, seeing him in silhouette takes me right back.

It’s not all hindsight; The Messenger, despite its odd electro drumming and slow pace, elicits a huge outbreak of dancing and sing-along-a-Marr.
Generate! Generate! is a punky, pummelling blaze: the band hurtle the song to the finish line as Marr leads the charge.

Great stuff from a bona fide legend. Who knows, maybe he could get the band back together. What’s that other guy doing these days?

 

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