"Once he got past the usual introductions, he was on fire."
Johnny Marr, former guitarist and co-songwriter for The Smiths, cuts a ferocious figure in the international indie music scene, chronically undervalued in the shadow of the allegedly megalomaniacal Morrissey; it was the breakdown of their working relationship that signalled the demise of one of the most important bands of the '80s and gave way to some notoriously patchy solo output from both parties.
Melbourne act Flyying Colours opened the night with strong psych rock tunes and more hair than any band could possibly wish for. A good band in their own right, they caught a few ears of the crowd, but through no fault of their own it felt as though they were battling a mountain of indifference.
When Johnny Marr skittered onto The Gov's stage on this cold, dreary Tuesday evening, the roar of the crowd was enough to suggest that the bleakness of The Smiths is still very much appreciated and Marr's star shines ever bright. Kicking things off with Playland, from his new album of the same name, Marr's energy was matched by the audience and we were off to a good start. A fierce collaborator — a likely contributing factor to his fractured relationship with the jealous Morrissey — Marr has always sought to find like minds and to contribute to music outside of his own work. Guitarist for Modest Mouse and The Cribs alongside having many other collaborations, Marr shows a versatility and restless musical spirit. That newest album, Playland, feels exuberant in its indifferent shrug to whatever a Johnny Marr record is supposed to sound like.
By the second song, Marr had already launched into the first of several Smiths renditions, Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before, in which he took care of Morrissey's vocals and the audience was, as you would expect, thrilled. It took a few songs for Marr to really warm into the show, but once he got past the usual introductions, he was on fire. Another Playland track, Easy Money, felt fresh, and Marr's band played with the kind of precision that's hard to adequately describe. When he scatted effortlessly over the solo, he and the band diverged until they were able to pull it back up. It felt natural and seamless. It felt like a band.
The highlight of the night, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, was simply stunning, reminding us just how good The Smiths really were, how poignant those winding, provocative lyrics ducking and weaving within effortless guitar lines remain to this day. The audience loved it so much they sang it right back at him.
With an encore cover of I Fought The Law inciting the mostly middle-aged crowd into a yelling frenzy, Marr knew how to work his audience. His guitar moves may, at times, have been a little like watching your uncle karaoke to AC/DC, but Marr is wonderfully adept at playing with conviction. He plays it like he means it, and more importantly, like he really enjoys it. With The Smiths' How Soon Is Now? rounding out the set, Marr has shown that he's still the Prince of Indie, and that he's still a genuine force in the scene.