The dichotomy at the heart of Johnny Marr’s art was in full display at the Town Ballroom on Saturday night, as the aesthete did battle with the rough and tumble rocker, both of them taking up residence inside Marr’s lithe frame.
As the sonic architect behind The Smiths, Marr is in no small part responsible for the creation of alternative rock guitar playing, and all the chiming, ringing, arpeggiated washes of sound associated with the style. But Marr also oozes glam rock insouciance, power-pop irreverence and an ability to strike iconic guitar player poses that would make Keith Richards envious. He’s the whole package, then, and as he strutted about the stage of the sold-out Town Ballroom, you got the sense that he knows it, and takes it all with a pinch of salt.
As a writer and player, Marr has one of the most impressive catalogs in late 20th and early 21st century rock music at his fingertips, and he pulled liberally from that body of work all evening. His latest effort as a solo artists and band-leader, “Call the Comet,” is the reason he’s on tour, and happily, it’s a masterwork blending everything Marr is known for into a deeply moving psychedelic stew. Marr played most that record, his three backing musicians lending both muscle and finesses to the alluring wall-of-guitar arrangements, as well as harmonies that fleshed out Marr’s agile tenor lead vocal.
Opening with the Bowie-esque glam stomper “The Tracers,” Marr wasted no time moving into the first of the evening’s half-dozen Smiths tunes, singing “Bigmouth Strikes Again” with such authority that we pretty much forgot all about that Morrissey fella. The new “Hi Hello” would have likely been a massive radio hit if radio still played new music from artists like Marr. Regardless, it was one of the evening’s emotional high points, and I was not the only one giddily singing along with the tune’s infectious chorus. Marr also stopped briefly in the annals of Electronic, the '90s band he formed with New Order’s Bernard Sumner following the dissolution of the Smiths, for a killer take on the anthemic “Getting Away with It.”
The crowd, seemingly well aware that they were in the presence of rock royalty, reluctantly let Marr go after four encores, among them a transcendent version of the evergreen “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.” Beautiful.
Johnny Marr, Oct. 20 at the Town Ballroom