Review: Johnny Marr Live Performances Time and Again Prove His Mastery as Solo Musician

Johnny Marr featured review - Photo by Steve Rose


ANAHEIM, CA – Without guitarist Johnny Marr, the Smiths’ music would have been as inconsistent as Morrissey’s solo career. With him, though, they were one of the greatest modern alternative bands. Thus, a chance to see a primary architect for this incredible Manchester band made it a must-see event.

Marr, backed by a tight three-piece band, didn’t disappoint. His setlist alternated between selections from his 2018 Call the Comet album and Smiths’ songs, with a few electronic selections and a Depeche Mode cover thrown in. He also played his strong, new Synth-y groove song, “Armatopia.” It all added up to a satisfying collection of old and new songs.

While Morrissey shirts outnumbered Marr apparel, fans sang along loudly to every Smiths song performed, as they would at any Moz concert. In fact, a few fans jumped on stage to hug or kiss Marr, the same way they often do whenever overly excited to see Morrissey live.

Johnny Marr in Anaheim – Photo by Steve Rose

Although it was easy to recognize the opening riffs to the Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and “Headmaster Ritual,” this audience deserves kudos for cheering early for the opening notes to “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me,” a relatively obscure ballad from the group’s swansong album, Strangeways Here We Come.

Marr closed the regular portion of his show with “How Soon Is Now?,” perhaps the Smiths’ best known song. He also turned “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” into an audience sing-along. One was left with the impression that the latter would have become a Smiths anthem, had the band lasted long enough to become superstars. 

Johnny Marr in Anaheim – Courtesy of Jackie C

A few of Marr’s best solo selections included “Easy Money” and “Walk Into the Sea.” These are fine songs, not just exercises for a skilled guitarist to show off. Then again, Marr has never been a one of those showy six-stringers. Instead, he’s an inventive riff-creator and an always-tasteful player. He’s far closer to a Clapton, than to Hendrix, in that respect. 

Nothing short of a Marr/Morrissey reunion will ever fully satisfy Smiths fanatics. Seeing each artist separately is merely the next best thing. Nevertheless, Johnny Marr has – like Morrissey – proven to be a skilled solo artist, and not just another 80s nostalgia peddler. Therefore, this wasn’t at all a bad night to experience “the next best thing.”

Johnny Marr – The Headmaster Ritual – Video courtesy of Jackie C