TVD Live Shots: Johnny Marr at the Fillmore Silver Spring, 10/17

It must be difficult to have been in a legendary band and then try to live up to expectations when you are a solo artist, especially if you are a musician who routinely tries new things. Do you play the old stuff to keep the old fans around, or do you reject it so that your solo career is judged on its own? Johnny Marr, who played the Fillmore Silver Spring on Wednesday, seems to be one person who is successfully marrying not just those two sides of his career, but also the then and the now of his sound.

I noticed this merge specifically that night with his driving version of “Easy Money,” which had Marr’s earworm guitar riffs atop the rocking dance beat. When Marr’s old band, The Smiths, broke up, he went and played as a hired hand in a variety of other rock bands like The Pretenders and The Cribs. He then teamed up with Bernard Sumner in the ‘90s to form Electronic, whose sound had more of a focus on dance music, like Sumner’s New Order.

When he started making solo records, sometimes there were rock songs with a danceable beat, other times just straight-ahead rock songs, but always the guitar took center stage. As if to showcase the obvious, “Easy Money” was played last night in between the Electronic song “Get the Message” and the train-going-full-speed “Boys Get Straight.” It was an intoxicating combination for sure. (“You’d better be texting the words ‘That was fucking badass’ because it was,” joked Marr to the crowd.)

Marr’s post-punk rocker side is in charge on his new release, Call the Comet, and nine of its 12 songs were played Wednesday. “New Dominions” started off with drummer Jack Mitchell on a drum machine, with dark minor Bauhaus-like chords. “Walk into the Sea” had a number of melodic bridges with an almost menacing undertow, complete with Marr’s shimmery guitar parts. And “Bug” was all jangly Brit-pop, the kind that evolved from The Smiths and found its way into songs by Oasis, Suede, and Blur.

There were six Smiths songs throughout the night, but it never felt like just nostalgia. The way they were woven into the setlist, it seemed one part “the audience loves these songs,” one part “I’m damn proud of my past,” and one part history lesson as to how Marr’s musical style has evolved. Marr can sing them really, really well, in a velvety croon that’s very close to Stephen Morrissey’s vocals.

That was especially apparent on the quieter tracks like “How Soon is Now?” and “Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me.” (James Doviak’s keyboard playing on the latter was really lovely as well.) Marr may not have Mozzer’s flamboyance beyond very colorful shirts, or his infamy (thankfully), but live, if you closed your eyes, you would have a hard time differentiating the two voices.

Johnny Marr could probably tour and only play Smiths songs, knowing people would pay (cough­—Peter Hook—cough), and he’d do it well. But Wednesday night’s show proved Marr is always looking for more than just banking on his past. He’s still surrounding himself with incredible musicians and still making amazing music, with that signature guitar sound of ethereal and razor-sharp melodies that is not easily copied. If Mozart created music for guitar, Johnny Marr would be the maestro. He’s not known as “Johnny Fuckin’ Marr” for nothing.

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