Johnny Marr, Brixton Academy - gig review: A bass-heavy, thickly menacing rumble

The enduring potency of Marr’s music elevates him and us

Nick Hasted
Friday 24 October 2014 13:28

It ends with Noel Gallagher humbly riding shotgun on guitar to one of his heroes, on an unimprovable “How Soon Is Now”. Johnny Marr makes the music he mostly wrote for Morrissey nearly 30 years ago a bass-heavy, thickly menacing rumble.

The key lyric - “I am human and I need to be loved/Just like everybody else does” – is sung as an aggressive demand for a right too long denied, roared along with by the crowd. It follows a sneering version of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”, Marr curling his head and tapping his head like a crazed, defiant outsider. The long punk roots of The Smiths and Oasis are being plugged into, both Mancunians mainlining their youths. It sends us into the street on an exhilarating high.

Two quick albums into a solo career several decades overdue, Marr is a competent, improving frontman. Sometimes awkward, slightly Americanised and even uncool in his banter with the crowd, his stage presence is raised by his towering achievements, with The Smiths most of all. To the mix of middle-aged and youthful fans here, he is as revered as Jimmy Page is to an older generation. A crucial difference is that Marr is releasing music now that sits happily with his classics. His current album Playland isn’t a match for last year’s The Messenger. But both records are filled with urgent pop you feel Marr needs to deliver.

The racing, direct momentum of Playland’s “25 Hours” is typical of his new music, as is its sentiment of empowering transcendence: the punk mantra Marr the teenage music obsessive first learnt when he bought Patti Smith’s Horses. “I am a child of the divine,” he sings, unwilling to settle for anything less. Next is “New Town Velocity”, The Messenger’s great single, this song of escape dedicated to “anyone who feels like they’re in school”. “Step out to symphonies,” Marr dreams, absently dancing to his own glisteningly sunny riff.

The Smiths’ “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before” and “Panic” rumble and echo in Brixton Academy, London’s most classic rock space. Marr plays a brief, pretty solo on the former, and inspires an adoring terrace chant on the latter. “That’s a good one,” he judges after “Big Mouth Strikes Again”, soon moving into the biggest hit by one of his other bands, Electronic’s “Getting Away With It”, a glitter-ball swirling as he plays drifty, psychedelic rave guitar.

The surly swagger of Playland’s “Speak Out Reach Out” is dedicated to “those who work in the financial district – no offence, know what I mean?” The social dissatisfaction of Marr’s current music is bone-deep. What he thinks when someone takes a selfie during “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” probably wouldn’t bear repeating.

But as the crowd turn what was once an anthem of adolescent desperation into one of a cappella triumph, the enduring potency of Marr’s music elevates him and us.

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