Johnny Marr’s light burns as bright as ever at Meltdown 2019
Meltdown curator and Chic co-founder Nile Rodgers delights tonight’s audience with a surprise appearance, introducing Mancunian musical royalty Johnny Marr as his “dearest friend in the world” – the latter even named his son after the soul musician. Marr comes on stage with a jaunty skip, embracing Rodgers in a warm hug, and teases with a little Smiths-like riffing, setting off to a rocking start, a theme which continues tonight. The Tracers (Call the Comet, 2018) sees the performer in energetic spirits; he then dives into The Smiths’ catalogue with classic highlight Bigmouth Strikes Again (The Queen Is Dead, 1986), Marr’s gifted guitar playing inspiring the otherwise seated audience to get on their feet. He plays his latest single, Armatopia, an “eco-disco” track for a bleak uncertain future, but it’s the singer’s jangly tunes that stand out, like Day in Day Out, which Marr commences by exclaiming, “let’s have some fun.”
Reverbed vocals alongside an electronic pad give the impression of being in a 1980s nightclub, with New Dominions, while Hi Hello is one to listen to whilst thinking of a person “you really love,” its unmistaken Smiths melody sounding glorious in the high-ceilinged hall. You Just Haven’t It Yet Baby is a rather surprising track choice, but Marr’s vocals are good, though unique and accompanied by heavier bass and drums. There are so many highlights from tonight’s show – like the lamenting Walk Into the Sea, with striking guitar plucking, alongside the singer’s brooding vocals. As the artist gives renditions of Getting Away With It and Get the Message, songs from his days as a member of alternative dance group Electronic, audience members happily revisit their youthful days; stagehands pull towels revealing silver semi-circle disco balls, further adding to the impressive performance. Marr’s virtuosity is clear, the guitar an extension of his physical being as he plays effortlessly to an adoring crowd.
When Marr brings Nile on stage – a gifted guitarist himself – it is sweet to see father and son play side by side. Together they perform Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want and a memorable rendition of A Certain Ratio’s Shack Up, Marr proudly exclaiming, “that’s my boy.” While his take on Smiths classics are quite bass-heavy, they are still enjoyable, everyone singing This Charming Man and the ever-epic How Soon Is Now, fans raising their arms with the famous chorus. Performing Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me, the stage dark and backlit with an orange glow, the keyboardist plays the first sombre notes and it feels as if we are back in that decade, with a rare opportunity to see The Smiths live. Ending with There Is a Light that Never Goes Out, Nile returns to play with his father, who’s light still burns brightly.
Photo: Victor Frankowski for Southbank Centre
For further information and future events visit Johnny Marr’s website here.
Watch the video for Armatopia here: