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Review: Johnny Marr @ O2 Academy, Bristol

On a recent, classically Bristolian rainy evening, it felt very apt to be heading to Bristol O2 Academy for a night of indie classics tunes from music great Johnny Marr.

By Susie Long, Music Subeditor

Johnny Marr, rising to fame as the guitarist of acclaimed rock band The Smiths before becoming an incredible artist in his own right, certainly knows how to put on a show. Standing in the crowd, surrounded by a mixture of 20-something Carhartt-clad indie boys and older men in floral shirts and tweed waistcoats (I’m sure ironically styled, of course), it was obvious that we were awaiting a rock legend - and he really did not disappoint.

Before Marr took to the stage, we were treated to the brilliant opening act, Gaz Coombes. Coombes is another excellent example of musical success after leaving a group, branching away from his Supergrass roots to solo fame, since releasing four albums and countless singles. Bringing a low-key, seemingly vulnerable feel to his set, but without detracting from his obvious “star quality”, this was the perfect performance to prepare us for Marr. 

I think it’s such a shame that, when we think of The Smiths, most people’s first thought is the ever-controversial Morrissey. Watching Marr perform, he manages to completely capture the jangly-rock essence that The Smiths are known for, without it feeling incomplete. His stage presence as a leader or frontman was excellent, and it felt like the story should’ve been about him all along. Blending his legacy with the band with some brilliant tracks of his own, I think Marr could’ve played any song and made it work.

With his well-known tracks like ‘Easy Money’ and ‘Somewhere’ - as well as his nod to former group Electronic with a rendition of 'Getting Away With It' - the crowd erupted, jumping in unison and throwing hands wildly in the air. There was something so powerful in Marr’s performance: not overzealous or trying too hard, just an effortless demonstration of letting quality music speak for itself.

Playing new music, and reassuring us to “not be scared, it’s not shit”, Marr is constantly evolving as an artist, which is refreshing to see from someone so legendary in the field. It, unsurprisingly, was not shit, and perfectly combined his iconic sound with a nostalgic, optimistic quality that I haven’t heard in lots of his tracks. Introducing grandiose orchestral backing tracks to some songs, with others being stripped-back acoustic renditions - and even bringing opener Gaz Coombes back out because “who on the planet doesn’t absolutely love Gaz Coombes?” - the night was a wonderful blend of musical atmospheres, allowing us all to truly appreciate everything that Marr has to offer.

Predictably, whenever Marr broke out into a song from The Smiths’ discography, the crowd’s reaction was next level. Don’t get me wrong, I was part of this wave - it would be hypocritical for me to comment on it without acknowledging that these songs were much more familiar to me than his other work. Songs such as ‘This Charming Man’, ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’, and the closing track ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ (dedicated, as Marr put it, “to everyone in this room and absolutely no one else”) were, as you would expect, performed phenomenally, but it was really interesting to see how differently they were received; there were definitely many more cameras in the air for these than for other parts of the night!

Whilst, of course, the novelty of seeing such iconic songs live has not quite worn off for me yet, this gig taught me that Johnny Marr is so much more than just ‘the guitarist from The Smiths’. He, along with Gaz Coombes and his exceptional house band (who were sweetly credited with “strange vibes and all kinds of weirdness’), put on a brilliant show.

Featured Image: Michael Maly

Have you ever seen Johnny Marr live?