When he entered the The Fillmore for his Sept. 26 performance, Johnny Marr probably knew that the one thing his concert didn’t have to do was win over a crowd of doubters. From his considerable solo work, musical exploration with projects such as Electronic and The The, and, of course, his brief but legendary stint as co-founder, guitarist, and songwriter for the Smiths, Marr has amassed an impressive fan following. These ardent fans made up the bulk of the concertgoers, and Marr molded his show accordingly.
The Fillmore is a generously sized venue, with an expansive standing area and high ceilings resplendent with crystal chandeliers. That night, however, it seemed to shrink to the size of an intimate barside stage as Marr engaged with his audience with infectious familiarity. Many in the crowd had been personal fans of Marr’s work for years, decades even; as such, Marr addressed his audience more as friends than as followers. Throughout the show, he kept the mood light with his mild jokes and quirky mannerisms. Overall, though, the banter was relatively sparse. Instead, he addressed the audience through his guitar, seamlessly melding intricate solos with familiar riffs.
And perhaps that musical focus is what contributed to the comfortable intimacy in the energy that flowed from the stage to the pit and back. For much of his career, Marr has been a man behind the curtain, known more for his iconic guitar melodies than his stage persona. During his time in the Smiths, his inventive musical style became a signifier of the band — arguably as much as scenery-chewing singer and lyricist Morrissey. Mention the Smiths, and one of the first things even a nonfan might think of is the cheerful opening riff of “This Charming Man.” Marr’s musicality was his stage presence — this continued through his work with Electronic, when he backed Bernard Sumner from New Order and Joy Division.
Only in 2013 would Marr release his first solo album, The Messenger. By then, however, his guitar and songwriting style were already ubiquitously recognized and universally respected. Fans of his solo work almost inevitably found him through his own earlier collaborations, which were just as important to his career and the development of his distinctive style. Perhaps as a result, Marr’s set was peppered with songs dating from earlier parts of his career as well.
Although the set list was balanced both in mood and in tempo, in performing the songs, Marr infused most with more sheer, joyous energy than was present in their earlier incarnations. Most notably, near the end of the set, Marr played the famously plaintive “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” In addition to emphasizing the driving percussion beneath the swooning melody, he opened the chorus — well-enough known that the majority of the crowd had it memorized — to audience participation, turning it from an anthem of desperate love to an exercise in giddy togetherness.
Along with Smiths classics and beloved newer tracks from his solo endeavors, Marr’s show was punctuated with songs from the relatively more dance-oriented canon of Electronic. Weaving in his signature chiming guitar beneath the pulsating beat, though, he effectively bridged the gap between his more indie rock-oriented discography and his synth-pop endeavors with Electronic.
Even while the set list was drawn from his various projects and bands over the years, there was never any doubt that the night was Marr’s. In almost every track, the band would pull back as Marr advanced to the front of the stage, wandering from left to right almost dreamily as he poured solo after solo from his guitar. Even though many were already well-acquainted with his prowess, jaws still dropped at Marr’s effortless renderings of these intricate runs. And in the end, even beyond Marr’s own personal charm, his guitar techniques are what earned Marr his cult following. From his work with the Smiths to his current solo career, he has never stopped innovating, sharing and shaping the musical world around him. The effect is positively magnetic.
Contact Sahana Rangarajan at [email protected].