Johnny Marr at Music Hall of Williamsburg: Concert Review

Johnny Marr live 2013 P
Jennifer Shea
An intimate Brooklyn venue brings out the best of the Smiths' catalog and of its iconic guitarist-turned-frontman.

While The Smiths are unlikely to ever reform, the band's faithful were awarded a consolation prize Friday night in Brooklyn, New York.

That's when the Music Hall of Williamsburg played host to a reunion of sorts, as guitarist Johnny Marr and bassist Andy Rourke shared an intimate concert stage. The duo consisted of half of The Smiths' original lineup, with drummer Mike Joyce and frontman Morrissey missing from the equation -- perhaps forever.

Still, Marr relished in the partial comeback, proclaiming, “In 1982, I was forming a band in Manchester, and I asked my best friend to come play the bass with me. He’s still one of the best musicians I’ve ever heard, and tonight, 30 years later, I’m gonna invite him up here.”

With that, Rourke joined his old bandmate on stage in front of a stunned crowd. The pair were all smiles and embraced, while the roaring audience soaked in the historic moment. The duo then launched into a thunderous rendition of the Smiths epic “How Soon Is Now?”

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It marked the first time the two had performed in public together since Rourke played with Marr’s band The Healers on stage at a cancer benefit concert in 2006. Prior to that, their last performance together was in 1987, the year The Smiths parted ways for good.

Marr, 49, was full of gusto from the start of the sold-out gig, displaying an age-defying, youthful exuberance as he strutted, jumped and posed throughout the high-energy, 90-minute performance along with his agile, three-piece band.

It marked the penultimate show of Marr's U.S. tour for the fortunate few who managed to secure a ticket to the sold-out, 550-person capacity venue, and the intimacy played a hand in the special atmosphere of the night, as an overwhelming feeling of love, admiration and respect for Marr was palpable throughout the show. Likewise, Marr seemed to thrive off the energy of the crowd.

Fans were treated to a career-spanning, 17-song set, which included generous treats from Marr’s work with The Smiths and Electronic. A lively cover of The Clash’s “I Fought The Law” was also in the mix, as well as various cuts from Marr’s latest album -- his first true solo collection -- The Messenger.

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While clearly no match for Morrissey on the microphone, Marr is a more-than-adequate vocalist. He took center-stage with a commanding intensity and communicated through his instantly recognizable guitar work. With that distinct sound and atmospheric and dream-like melodies., the crowd was instantly transported to another era of modern rock.

While every song was well-received, it was the Smiths material that naturally garnered the strongest and most passionate responses from the mostly 40-something crowd. And Marr performed the tracks with feverish passion, as if to claim ownership. Along with "How Soon Is Now," there were rousing renditions of “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” and “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out," as well as a ferocious version of the B-side “London," and a blistering take on “Bigmouth Strikes Again.”

Marr closed out his main set with three songs off The Messenger and Fans showed their appreciation for the material by singing along to “Words Start Attack," “New Town Velocity” and “I Want The Heartbeat.” It proved to be some of the strongest performances of the night.

The Messenger, well-received by critics and fans alike, is somewhat of a turning point for Marr, who until now fashioned himself more of a support player than a frontman. His U.S. tour included stops at April's Coachella festival and an appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.

As for the Smiths, both Marr and Morrissey have continuously dismissed various lucrative offers to reunite the group. Thus the excitement surrounding Marr's one-night-only re-pairing with Rourke. Indeed, “How Soon Is Now?” was more than mere nostalgia; it rang clear as a declaration of the legacy the song itself, and of the men on stage who were among its architects.

Set List:

The Right Thing Right
Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before
Sun & Moon
There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
Forbidden City
The Messenger
Generate! Generate!
Say Demesne
Bigmouth Strikes Again
Word Starts Attack
New Town Velocity
I Want The Heartbeat


I Fought The Law
Getting Away With It
How Soon Is Now?

Twitter: @THRMusic