Review: Johnny Marr – Rock City Nottingham

Mercurial guitar wizard Johnny Marr – of The Smiths fame – finished his recent tour at Nottingham’s Rock City with one of Indie rock’s finest songwriters in Gaz Coombes (formerly of Supergrass) as support. It was a billing to be excited about.  

               Gaz Coombes and his roguish band were in fine form, warm and affable sounding, clearly enjoying the occasion. Opening with the psych rocker Salamander later followed by the Krautrock freak out of Feel Loop (Lizard Dream) and a gorgeous gem of a ballad called The Girl Who Fell To Earth from his Mercury Prize nominated second album Matador. Towards the end of his set, someone cried out for Moving by Supergrass and Coombes replied “This is not a request show”. In fact it didn’t need to be; it was a chance to shine the spotlight on his under-the-radar solo songwriting prowess rather than focus on the more well-known Supergrass material. And Johnny Marr went on to mention how highly he regarded him in this respect. 

                Marr opened his own set with the synth driven Sensory Street before the nostalgic Panic lit up the crowd, with a reference to Nottingham thrown in for good measure. Early on it was clear that Johnny Marr could command the stage as a frontman and lead guitarist, pulling off the Morrisey vocal parts with aplomb. More of his solo material followed in the form of Spirit Power & Soul as well as New Town Velocity, bearing welcome traces of New Order influence, before launching into the snappy jangle of This Charming Man. The icy crystalline guitar melodies of Walk Into The Sea and the rocky, propulsive The Answer deliver a darker counterpoint to the euphoria of Smiths hits. A beautiful acoustic guitar rendition of Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want followed (also performed by the Alt-Metal giants Deftones the night before at Coachella Festival in California) then Stop Me If You Think You Heard This Before (with Gaz Coombes on backing vocals) and Big Mouth Strikes Again struck a chord with the crowd in a trilogy of classic Indie anthems. The tremolo guitar strains of How Soon Is Now took this to the next level, an intense and palpable connection with the crowd, echoed by the refrains of ‘I am human and I need to be loved just like everybody else does’. There was no shortage of love towards the band tonight, and the performance was rapturously received. 

                  Two of the tracks by Johnny’s early 90’s duo Electronic (alongside Bernard Sumner) really stood out on the night as well: Get The Message and Getting Away With It All My Life possessed a catchy playfulness that highlighted his special guitar hooks and he pulled off Bernard Sumner’s unique vocals as well as Morrisey’s falsetto. I was most impressed by the way Marr could morph with swagger from lead vocals to lead guitar in an agile and alert performance. Gaz Coombes rejoined Johnny and his band for a rousing encore of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and many happy fans sang along; ‘The pleasure the privilege is mine’. It was indeed a privilege to be there, and it’s as close as I’ll ever get to seeing The Smiths on the Rock City stage. 

Review by Dan Heathcote

Dan Heathcote is the singer/guitarist of Nottingham based alt-rock group Zadkiel. 

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