Review: Johnny Marr at The Corner Hotel (4/1/14)

Morrissey’s Autobiography makes abundantly clear why a Smiths reformation is as likely as the fiercely vegan author festively frying a juicy lamb cutlet.  A shame for the frustrated masses who never experienced the band on stage, nor lived their prolific mid 1980’s period of pop perfection as it was haphazardly released.

At least the two chief protagonists have soldiered on; evolving, creating and performing – even if debatably diminished artistically and relentlessly tied to the their achingly premature separation.

Australia has rarely been in the ex-Smiths’ singer-songwriter Morrissey or lead guitarist Johnny Marr’s touring cross-hairs, so the opportunity to catch both in the space of just over 12 months has been treasured by an underestimated bunch of Antipodean Smithsonians.

As a music journeyman, the lower profile Marr has enjoyed a productive post-Smiths career, though it has taken considerable time to find and trust his own voice.  Last year’s critically acclaimed The Messenger release served to shine an overdue spotlight on a revered talent who  deserves a wider hearing in his own right.

Consequently Marr has been touring the world, typically warranting far larger venues than The Corner Hotel in Richmond, Melbourne.  Nonetheless, he and his three long standing compadres (slick professionals Jack Mitchell, Iwan Gronow and James Doviak) exceeded the high expectations of an intimate, packed house.

The set kicked off with one of Marr’s own pumping tracks before the punters greeted Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before with wild fervour (and relief that Smiths prime cuts were on the menu). Whilst Marr’s solo work – particularly The Messenger‘s outstanding title track featuring trademark licks – was well received by the erudite punters, it was the golden nuggets Stop me, Panic, Bigmouth, How soon is now? and There is a light that never goes out which predictably won unbridled raptures.

Paradoxically, Marr’s famously whimsical, noodling riffs weren’t so evident.  And certainly Marr’s voice, whilst suited to his harder driving, contemporary style, falls well short of Morrissey’s range and gravitas. That said, those attempting to bop upon the sticky carpet wholeheartedly lent their lungs to mitigate any vocal shortcomings or sense of abnormality.  And what’s more the vegetarian teetotaller has developed a charismatic stage presence, his signature white Fender Jaguar both a handy prop and weapon of mass construction (to compliment his Mancurian charm and wit).

Later in proceedings the one-time Crowded House collaborator, with a twinkle in the eye, asked if there were any questions – as if to dare the tired old (Smiths) question be raised amid such a rousing performance which even included a cover of the old Bobby Fuller hit I fought the law.  It was a generous performance too, the encore stretching well into the night.

Just as an ailing yet indisputably more successful Morrissey appears to have hit the crossroads, at 50 the sprightly Marr has plenty more to give – a belated re-emergence promising more riches ahead.  Whether that equates to mainstream recognition would unlikely be as significant to the less highly strung guitar hero, who in his own distinct fashion has similarly inspired and influenced millions.

****

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