Thursday, November 27, 2014

Johnny Marr Well-Worth Applauding as He Forgoes "Easy Money" -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Johnny Marr
w/ opening act Meredith Sheldon
The Vic, Chicago
November 25, 2014

When married couples divorce, it seems rather rare that they are convinced to walk down the aisle again 20 years later or so.

But the reunification of long-disbanded rock groups, whose breakups often are presumably for similar reasons--acrimony, betrayal or just having run their course--seems to be clamored for and speculated about for as long as the primary members remain alive.

Certainly, much more native to the latter case is the specter of money, often loads of it, not just for the band members but managers, promoters, arenas, record companies, sponsors, etc., etc.

And also the allure of rekindled public adulation.

So while I would happily spend whatever it would take to see a reunited Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads or The Jam, I all the more respect the resistance of certain key participants to milk the cash cow of a latter-day reunion (with the caveat that each situation has different factors at play).

And much as I perceive Slash as being happy and wealthy enough to be better off without reconnecting with Axl for the humongous payday that would accompany a classic Guns 'n Roses reunion tour, I applaud Johnny Marr for doing his own thing rather than deal with Morrissey to reform The Smiths.

Barely a week goes by where I don't see something in my Facebook news feed about Morrissey that makes me cringe, from cutting concerts short to saying stupid, offensive things to cancelling tours altogether, as he's seemingly done now 4 times in 4 years. 

I had a ticket to see "Moz" for the first time this June at Chicago's Civic Opera House, but then he got sick, publicly blamed his opening act for getting him sick and cancelled the remainder of the tour. 

So while I have enough respect and regard for the music Morrissey, Marr and the rest of the Smiths made to have wanted to see the singer despite it all, and would certainly pay attention to a reunion, you know what? 

The guitarist singing some Smiths songs is more than good enough. 

For me, and seemingly for him.

Though the man sitting near me in the front row of The Vic's balcony on Tuesday seemed more credible than crazy, I'm still dubious that The Smiths were really ever offered $100 million to reunite. Seems a bit much for a band that never really cracked America.

But undoubtedly, if Marr wanted to tour with Moz as The Smiths, he'd be playing vastly larger venues than the Vic, which drew a nice crowd for $30 a head but was far from sold out. 

Yet not only is Johnny not having to deal with Morrissey's bull--, uh let's be nice and say "drama," in his early 50s he's really hit a creative groove. 


As he famously co-wrote many Smiths classics when he was in and barely out of his teens. 

I named Marr's The Messenger album my second favorite of 2013. And this year, he released another one named Playland that is nearly as good.

At the Vic, he played 8 of the new album's 11 songs, plus 3 from The Messenger, and the nearly 100-minute concert never suffered from it. 

In fact, although as the second song in, my favorite Smiths song--"Panic"--was a blissful delight, recent Marr solo tracks such as "The Right Thing Right" and "Easy Money" were nearly as enthralling. 

It was also clear that Marr knows how to put together a crowd-pleasing set, but one that should also be quite satisfying for himself.

Of the concert's first ten songs, only two were Smiths throwbacks--"Panic" and "The Headmaster Ritual"--and the audience seemed to be into it all. But even after "Generate! Generate!" allowed Johnny to demonstrate his dazzling guitar prowess, it seemed something special was needed. 

Which was delivered as Marr and his three bandmates--two from Manchester, as he is, and one from Chicago--ripped into the Smiths' classic "Bigmouth Strikes Again."

And especially given how much more lyrically and vocally straightforward his solo songs are than the crooning, melodramatic lyricism with which Morrissey largely defined the Smiths, I was tremendously impressed with how spot-on Johnny sang his old band's songs. 

One might imagine "the guitarist" warbling through past band hits as best he can when touring under his own name. Or abstaining altogether, as R.E.M.'s Peter Buck did when I saw him fronting his own group earlier this year. 

But Johnny Marr certainly didn't leave me longing for Steven Morrissey, on the Smiths songs or at all. 

I'm not saying he sang "How Soon is Now?" and "There is a Light That Never Goes Out"--see the Marr's full Vic setlist here--quite as distinctively as Morrissey once did, or perhaps again would, but Marr was completely in tune and key while emulating Moz's vocals without any overwrought affectations. 

Thus as he dedicated the closing "There is a Light..." to everyone in the building "and nobody fucking else!" it wasn't hard to imagine whom he might have meant. 

And, while gleefully singing along with some of the most macabre love lyrics ever written...

And if a double-decker bus crashes in to us
To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten ton truck kills the both of us
To die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine applaud him all the more for carrying on, pretty damn well, without his talented but exasperating ex-songwriting partner.

Or former band.

Appropriately, here is a good clip of "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" from the Vic, posted to YouTube by EQ404Hz:

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