Saturday, 19 October 2013
Review of Johnny Marr at The Roundhouse, London, on October 18, 2013
"Make way, make way, classic indie riff coming through," and there it was: the roaring, teeth-clenched bitterness of Bigmouth Strikes Again exploding all over the Roundhouse like an IED from the 80s. Sweetness, I was only joking when I said you should be bludgeoned in your bed, the strumming as big and bold as brass, bouncing of the assembled bald heads bobbing like apples in a bucket.
Can you believe it's 30 years since I saw Johnny Marr for the first time at the Hacienda? I was supposed to go with Des, but he turned up at The Salisbury in Oxford Road and announced he'd finally got Margaret to go on a date with him. So I went on my own. This Charming Man with Johnny's breathtaking fretwork had been released hours earlier. I grinned from blistering start to gladioli-garlended finish, knowing that nothing would ever be the same again. Months later at another brilliant gig in the more mannered venue of the Free Trade Hall, Des mournfully regretted his choice of evening. It was his only date with Maggie.
Those now crow-footed grins were back at Johnny's second song last night - Panic, a triumphant denigration of England's suburbs from a time when Humberside still existed and we all wondered if life really ever would be sane again. I eventually found a job on those Leeds side-streets that we slipped down. Heaven knows...
Then it was Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want, that magical Marr mandolin shimmering underneath a classic Morrissey lyric. The lazy luddites who called him and them miserable just didn't get it.
It's the same with the dunderheaded speed-readers who've been so quick to denounce Mozzer's Autobiography this week. The melodramatic memories of his miserable Manchester schooldays are comic masterpieces. Like Smiths songs, his unique style mocks the mundane horror of everyday life and makes each household appliance sound like a new science. Man In a Suitcase, Belle and Sebastian, Ron Ely's black and white Tarzan on TV - anyone who lived through it will recognise it with a grey-haired sigh and get moist-eyed at the fact they've escaped almost intact.
Take us back, Johnny, to a time when our quiffs were still colourful. And he did it again, brimmed black hat on jet black hair, trim and bouncing-fit in drainpipe black jeans, the first gutteral, chuntering chords of How Soon Is Now? spinning us in a Tardis back to a holiday caravan on Anglesey in '83, drinking too much with Des and Paul and listening to a Smiths Peel session on the radio. What the heck was that sound and how did he do it? He was doing it again last night amid the roars.
And he can sing alright. But didn't every single person in the Roundhouse wish Morrissey would appear from nowhere fast, that son and heir of a shyness that was criminally vulgar, and tell us he'd already waited too long? But all our hope went long ago.
On he goes, the future classics from his Messenger album ably filling the gaps between the songs we still carry fully-loaded in our sage and ancient heads. First he surprised us with Getting Away With It, that odd collaboration with Barney from New Order and one of the Pet Shop Boys, an unlikely super-group from the days when Jimmy Saville was still allowed on Top of the Pops despite our worst fears and suspicions.
Then Stop Me if you think you've heard this one before, but it's true - I do still love you, not even slightly less than I used to. And then the mighty, mighty encore. If a double decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side, well the pleasure and the privilege is mine. There Is Light That Never Goes Out, another joyous song created by that guy right there on the stage, a song that a million unhappily-divorced indie couples danced to in front of their weepy friends on their wedding night, vowing an eternity that fizzled out like a vinyl record's final, crackle-popped fade.
It's undeniable: Marr picks better Smiths songs to play solo than Morrissey ever did. Why don't they just boot the grime of this world in the crotch and get back together before it's too damn late?
At last and too soon, Johnny jumped a McCartney-style skip and a gave us a See Ya, Camden. We crept out of the old tram shed, ten-ton trucks convoying in our heads, the past alive in our hearts, the future as uncertain as ever, the present a pot-luck voyage on the Northern Line.
I wonder what Des is doing now?