2022 was a huge year for Johnny Marr. Not only did he release his fourth solo album – Fever Dreams Pts.1-4 – but he headlined 6 Music Festival and toured the UK with Blondie, before heading state site for a lengthy tour with The Killers. The Manchester legend is one of the hardest working musicians on the scene, so we were eager to see what he had up his sleeve for 2023, and a few months ago, he announced a wealth of UK dates to go alongside his array of festival appearances. We were at The Picturedrome in Holmfirth for his first show since last October – and he had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the get go.
After walking onstage to the atmospheric ‘Time’ from the ‘Inception’ soundtrack that the guitarist penned with Hans Zimmer, he dove straight in with the uplifting ‘Day In Day Out’ from his third studio album, Call the Comet. Next up was ‘Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before’ – the first Smiths offering of the evening that certainly got the crowd warmed up. The first show of a tour tends to have that extra layer of excitement to it because the setlist is unknown and as Johnny’s recently teased new music, it was highly anticipated, so the live debut of ‘The Answer’ was a welcome addition. Fast paced throughout, the frenzied track has a real fierceness to it and possesses some of Johnny’s most exhilarating guitar work yet.
Forever talented when it comes to crafting a strong setlist, Johnny’s was a real mix of old and new and it was pleasing to see him place a slightly heavier focus on his solo material than usual– particularly as this year marks a decade of his solo career. ‘The Answer’ was proceeded by the ‘Ariel’ and ‘New Town Velocity’ – two gorgeous tracks that boast alluring vocals and empathetic choruses. Of course, it’s not long before the tempo is shot back up and the holy trinity of the anthemic ‘Spirit, Power and Soul’, ‘Spiral Cities’ and Smiths favourite ‘This Charming Man’ had everybody moving.
Around halfway through the set, Johnny introduced ‘Somewhere’ – the second new track of the evening, that’s set to be his next single. Boasting an infectiously catchy chorus, the melodic track shone the spotlight on Johnny’s smooth vocals, which have gone from strength to strength since the release of his debut album The Messenger in 2013. Shimmeringly brilliant, it was impossible not to smile throughout its entirety. In total juxtaposition, the lights turned blue and both Johnny and the band became silhouettes for ‘Walk into the Sea’ – a brooding track that doesn’t just draw attention to how talented Johnny’s powerhouse of a band (Jack Mitchell, Iwan Gronow, James Doviak and Scott Docherty) are, but highlights exactly how tight they are in a live setting.
The remainder of the main set was hits aplenty, with ‘Panic’ and the infectiously catchy ‘Easy Money’ keeping the energy levels high. Though it’s not just the sprightly tracks that soared and both the poignant ‘Hi Hello’ and ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’ brought moments of true beauty to the set – particularly the latter, which stunned the crowd to silence. Things came to an end with the swagger fuelled ‘How Soon Is Now’, which Johnny once described as the Smiths’ most enduring track, and based on its tremolo-heavy guitar riff alone, it’s easy to see why.
The encore consisted of five prolific tracks that ensured that the night ended on a high – including the bass heavy ‘Night and Day’, the raucous ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ and an emotional rendition of ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’, which Johnny dedicated to the late great, Andy Rourke. Stand alone single ‘Armatopia’ was the penultimate track of the night – described by Johnny as “eco-disco”, the synth ridden track had the Picturedrome bouncing and served as a reminder of the wealth of genres and styles that Johnny’s experimenting with over the years. Last but certainly not least was ‘Getting Away With It’ – paying homage to Johnny’s days in Electronic and including a stellar guitar solo, it truly brought the night to a triumphant end and left the crowd pining for more.
It’s both refreshing and impressive to see an artist with an extensive career such as Johnny’s still pushing forward and based on the huge smile plastered across his face during the first show, he’s still enjoying every single moment. With a Summer of festivals and dates in small venues across the UK ahead, we can’t wait to see what the indie icon has in store for the rest of 2023.