by Jeff Niesel
Though they only existed for a short stretch in the early ’80s, the Smiths were something special. With singer Morrissey’s crooning vocals and self-loathing lyrics and guitarist Johnny Marr’s retro-sounding guitar riffs, the band had a singular sound and vision. Marr brought some of that magic to the Grog Shop last night during a two-hour set in front of a sold out crowd that was clearly enthused to hear him throw a few Smiths songs into the set.
Looking rather dapper in a bright blue sport jacket, the diminutive Marr opened the set with “The Right Thing Right,” a track from his new solo album The Messenger. The studio version is a brisk rave-up but it didn’t have the same kind of frenetic energy when Marr played it live. Marr also couldn’t quite nail the vocals on the following tune, a rendition of the Smiths’ “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before.” But then, as if he sensed his four-piece band wasn’t playing with enough intensity, Marr encouraged them by saying, “Let’s get going.” From that point on, the group sounded sharp. It launched into “Upstarts,” a tune with a catchy guitar riff that benefited from flickering strobes. And while Marr didn’t have the right amount of sarcasm in his vocals for the Smiths tune “Panic,” the song still sounded great. The moody “New Town Velocity,” a slower number that sounded a bit like something the Cure might have recorded in the ’80s, really soared before Marr again turned to the Smiths catalog to deliver “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and the set-closing “How Soon is Now?”
While his rendition of “I Fought the Law” that he played in the encore came off as a bit by-the-numbers and the rendition of Electronic’s “Getting Away with It” didn’t quite work (the song’s hook was buried in the mix), Marr ended with the encore with a poignant version of the Smiths’ tune “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” that turned into a sing-a-long with the audience. The ballad proved a perfect ending point for a concert that demonstrated just how easily Marr has slipped into the frontman role after years of playing as a sideman.