Johnny Marr at the Gothic Theatre, 4/21/13
The moment everybody seemed to be waiting for during Johnny Marr's set last night came at the end, when the iconic echoing guitar part rippled through the air, signaling the beginning of "How Soon Is Now?" There was just something about the vividness, the clarity and the sheer presence of the song live that made the moment special beyond just nostalgia, and Iwan Gronow's bass playing underscored what a cool bass line drives it. And rather than merely being a re-creation of the original, Marr added some improvised details that fit perfectly within the original mood and feel of the tune.
As the lights went down, the band went right into "Right Thing Right" and built up a momentum that didn't really let up for the rest of the set. Sure, the pace of some of the songs was slower, but the outfit established and maintained an intensity throughout. Marr seemed in high spirits, especially when it became obvious to him that people in the crowd were enthusiastic about his songs and not just the Smiths' material. After the show, people who hadn't really listened closely to The Messenger buzzed about how seeing the songs live made them appreciate the music even more.
Johnny Marr on stage last night at the Gothic Theatre in Englewood.
"Tell Me If You've Heard This One Before," the first Smiths song of the set, almost seemed surreal to see and hear in person. It was so visceral and gorgeously melodic, it surprised a little. And if Marr hadn't been confident in his own singing ability at some time in the past, this show overall, and this song in particular, revealed him to be a talented singer in his own right. His phrasing was not just spot-on, but it instilled the performance with an emotional authenticity.
A big surprise came with the performance of the first Electronic song of the night, "Forbidden City." Although Bernard Sumner had sung the original, Marr's voice seemed well-suited to this kind of reimagining of the song with the emphasis off the electronic music. Before "Lockdown," Marr told us about some article written about "the U.K.'s crummiest cities," in which the author solicited opinions of people about why they hated their own town. Apparently, Marr found such an article pure rubbish and foolish on its face.
Johnny Marr on stage at the Gothic Theatre last night in Englewood.
"Say Demesne" was an interestingly dark and moody moment in an otherwise highly energetic and upbeat show, with a brooding melody that sparked into something more fiery toward the middle. The main set ended with the emotionally charged "I Want the Heart Beat," and that was followed by an encore that included a startlingly amped-up cover of "I Fought the Law," an excellently reworked Electronic song, "Getting Away With It," and an outstanding version of "How Soon Is Now?"
Earlier in the night, the show opened with Meredith Sheldon's band Alamar, which played a short set of jangly, sometimes introspective power pop. Sheldon's guitar work at times was reminiscent of Ash Bowie, if Bowie had gone on to play with Cat Power and PJ Harvey after his stint in Helium and after returning to Polvo. The playing was vivid, inventive, colorful, melodic and atmospheric. Vocally, Sheldon had a plaintive soulfulness to her that at times recalled the vocals of Zola Jesus.
Meridith Sheldon and Alamar on stage last night at the Gothic Theatre in Englewood.
Gothic Theatre - 04/21/13
01. The Right Thing Right
02. Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before (The Smiths)
04. Sun and Moon
05. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (The Smiths)
06. Forbidden City (Electronic)
07. London (The Smiths)
09. The Messenger
10. Generate! Generate!
11. Say Demesne
12. Bigmouth Strikes Again (The Smiths)
13. Word Starts Attack
14. New Town Velocity
15. I Want the Heart Beat
16. I Fought the Law (The Crickets)
17. Getting Away With It (Electronic)
18. How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths)
* All songs from Johnny Marr's solo career except where noted
Personal Bias: When I was a senior in high school, Strangeways Here We Come was released, and I liked this strange song called "Girlfriend in a Coma" and another called "Stop If You Think You've Heard This One Before." A few years later, I was also a fan of that first Electronic album and have been a fan of Marr's guitar wizardry since.
Random Detail: I ran into Keith Curts of Echo Beds/Glass Hits and Samantha Donen of Hi-Strung at the show.
By the Way: The guitar tech played a bit of "I Wanna Be Your Dog," by The Stooges, and "Telegram Sam," by Pink Floyd, during sound check.
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