JOHNNY MARR @ THE TERAGRAM BALLROOM
“Thank you for going through the digital minefield of getting a ticket for this show,” Johnny Marr said during his June 6 show at the Teragram Ballroom, where he performed two “exclusive album launch shows” for Call the Comet, out June 15. “That was a test. You’re all in the matrix now,” he added jokingly.
Both sold-out shows were titled “An Evening With Johnny Marr,” and the legendary musician did not disappoint. He began the night with new song “The Tracers,” whose lyrics contain the album title, Call the Comet. Noted to be his personal favorite, the song begins with howls of “ooh ooh ooh” and has an energetic drive that helped define what was in store for the rest of the night. As for the song itself, Marr has explained that “Tracers are the either a form of intelligence from a parallel universe, a different dimension, or a different planet.” The lyrics ponder the state of the world and whether these otherworldly beings can help: “Tracers, they know we’ve lost the way. Take all the love we lost.”
It sets the tone for the new album — an anti-materialism, anti-capitalism, anti-politics rumination. “I wouldn’t call it a concept record, but it’s got a unifying theme going through it about the Earth welcoming a different intelligence from the cosmos to save us from our own plight,” he has said. Since this was an album launch show, Marr performed nearly all of Call the Comet, including “Hi Hello,” which he described as “an old language from the old country” and has been compared to Smiths classic “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Another Comet highlight was “Walk Into the Sea,” whose notable tonal shifts surprisingly flow in sync together. Its subdued, minimalist beginning, lasting nearly two minutes, segues into a more commanding, urgent middle — as Marr’s lyrical delivery is nearly spoken rather than sung. But by the end, when he sings, “And hope breaks on me,” the song becomes melodic and optimistic.
When Marr introduces new song “Bug,” he is ready to unleash what has been on his mind. While sharing an anecdote about smoking pot and declaring, “You’ve got to do that shit,” he then wonders, “Or is this some kind of new Trump’s America thing?” When loud groans could be heard, he admits, “Oh, now we’ve started something, right?” He then asks, with some anger, “Is it just me or does it feel like some fucking virus is working its way into our nervous systems, is attacking our immune systems, is toxic, kind of uncaring, unsympathetic, no compassion, no kindness, just a bum line dollar and a pound? Is it just me or does that feel like a fucking bug?” It’s the perfect intro to “Bug,” an upbeat, Britpop-inspired rock number about a dystopian world where “the population is sick and shaken” and “the world is burning up.”
But there were moments of levity, such as when he says, “We get to that part in the evening where I say, ‘Anyone got a request?’” As many, many people scream out their song requests, he remembers that someone had requested Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” the previous night. “I nearly learnt it today,” Marr admits, “but the dude who wanted it isn’t here now.” Regarding a request for a Steve Miller Band song, he jokes, “Fly like a cocking California or what, man?” in reference to that band’s “Fly Like an Eagle.” He adds, “We come out here in 2018 from Manchester, England, the dude who invented indie rock, and you shout a Steve Miller tune?”
Marr also performed some of his earlier solo material, such as “New Town Velocity” from 2013’s The Messenger and “Easy Money” and “Boys Get Straight” from 2014’s Playland. Plus, there was the 1989 pop gem “Getting Away With It” by Electronic, Marr’s band with Bernard Summer of New Order.
And, as expected, Marr included plenty of songs from that other band — The Smiths — whose long shadow continues to follow him. In fact, tonight’s concert included seven Smiths songs. As the opening notes of each classic began to play, we went ballistic, screaming and shouting in excitement. From “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” to “How Soon Is Now” and “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” we were all ecstatic.
A highlight was during “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” when we all sang the cherished lyrics: “And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die. And if a 10-ton truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine.” At times, Marr stopped singing and let us carry on without him.
Toward the end of the night, he said with appreciation, “It’s been very, very nice to see you. Maybe I’ll see you guys again when we come back in Sept-ober,” referring to his fall tour, which includes an Oct. 4 show at Theatre at the Ace Hotel and an appearance at the Ohana Festival in September. “We’re going to leave you with this ditty. I hope I don’t screw it up,” he concludes modestly, ending the show with Smiths song “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby.” As the band exited the stage, we all loudly chant, “Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!” Morrissey once famously said about Marr: “Johnny, trying to please everyone and consequently pleasing no one.” Tonight, however, among the pleased and happy fans, Morrissey is wrong.