Johnny Marr Has Still Got It, Rocks Union Transfer

It’s easy to be skeptical about a 51 year-old touring the world past his prime in the eighties, when he was guitarist of The Smiths—but if Johnny Marr’s ability to captivate a crowd is any indication, he doe not seem to be slowing down any time soon. Though his covers of The Smiths songs like “How Soon Is Now?” and “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” naturally evoke the most intense reactions from the crowd, Marr’s solo work still manages to solidify itself as the main focus of the set, rather than as filler material to wade through until Marr plays songs that he co-wrote thirty years ago.

“So, either you’re not football fans, or…” starts Meredith Sheldon as she takes the stage to open for Johnny Marr on Monday night.  Though she usually plays with a full band, at Union Transfer, it’s just her and an electric guitar. During her set, she changes back and forth from standard guitar tuning to open tuning, and the welcoming, intimate aura that she exudes allows for a man in the crowd to shout and ask her why she does not use two guitars. “It’s like children,” Sheldon says. “You know when you have a favorite?”

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Meredith Sheldon’s music is soothing, yet packed with power. She writes her music based on her own experiences, and her connection to her music shows in her performances. Before playing “Reverie” from her 2012 EP MLS, Sheldon explains, “This song had many incarnations… It’s changing and becoming more interesting as I grow out of it.”

During Meredith Sheldon’s set, Union Transfer feels as though it’s a small bar tucked away on a side street where singer-songwriters sit atop a wooden stool and bare their hearts. But as Johnny Marr prepares to take the stage, the ambiance of the crowd suggests that this is a football stadium, and the biggest rock band in America is about to take the stage. People in their forties and fifties line the pit in anticipation, holding their thirty-year-old Smiths vinyls in hopes that Johnny Marr may sign them after the show.

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When Johnny Marr finally takes the stage in his dark green suit and pink-checkered button-up, he quickly begins with “Playland,” the title song off of his recently released second album. He follows with “Panic,” an upbeat Smiths song that gave Panic! at the Disco their name. Though his age is noticeable in his wrinkles, Johnny Marr’s performance does not seem to be affected. He uses the entire Union Transfer stage as he performs, frequently moving to the very front of the stage to get as close to the crowd as possible.

After The Smiths’s split in 1987, Johnny Marr toured, recorded, and collaborated with various musicians, including Noel Gallagher, Modest Mouse, and The Cribs. But it wasn’t until early 2013 that Marr began his solo career with his debut album, The Messenger. His most recent album, Playland, was released just over a month ago. Marr manages to pack his set with a great deal of solo songs, but at the same time, he weaves timeless classics into his set like “The Headmaster Ritual” and “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” As expected, there are great stylistic differences between the music that Johnny Marr made in the eighties and the music that he makes now, yet it doesn’t seem out of place for him to spice up his set with some guaranteed crowd-pleasers. Part of the reason why it works for Marr to play the hits is because his solo work is also fun and engaging – songs like “Easy Money” got the crowd dancing, and during “Back in the Box,” Marr hopped around the stage as though he were a middle-aged cartoon character. When Marr plays Smiths songs, they complement, rather than overpower, his newer material, though he seems to get more enjoyment out of performing songs from Playland.

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After ending his set with “How Soon Is Now?” Johnny Marr plays a four-song encore, including a cover of Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life.” Unsurprisingly, he wraps up the encore with “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” and the crowd sings along to the entire song with nostalgia.

Though The Smiths will always be a distinct and triumphant part of Johnny Marr’s legacy, his expert guitar playing, songwriting ability, and comfort on stage show us that Marr is more than just his past – his legacy is still being formed.  Take a look below at our amazing slideshow from the show!

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Photos by Amanda Silberling

1 Comment

  1. Lauren Silvestri

    November 16, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Can’t believe it’s been that long since The Smiths broke up. I think Johnny Marr looks fantastic for his age! His new material isn’t bad at all.

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