Johnny Marr // Chris Eason Photography

TME REVIEWS: Johnny Marr at Granada Theater

Granada Theater (Dallas, TX)
– Words by Jordan Buford / Photos by Chris Eason –

This night, Dallas’s iconic Granada Theater was playing host to a music legend; Johnny Marr.

There’s no question that it was his years and work with The Smiths that made him such a revered figure in the musical world, though is time with Electronic, Modest Mouse and other endeavors are certainly nothing to shrug at. His current focus is on his solo work, though, having released “The Messenger” earlier in the year, the tour in support of it now reaching its American leg, and Dallas was one of the early stops on it.

Johnny Marr // Chris Eason Photography

Johnny Marr and his band mates got off to a little later start than what was scheduled (only ten minutes), but no one in the packed out venue seemed to mind. If anything, it just built the anticipation up more, so by the time 10:01 rolled around and the house lights finally faded, the audience was ecstatic, and let it be known from the mix of cheers and applause.

Marr was the last one to take the stage, receiving the noisiest amount of fanfare from the fans, of which there was a very diverse age demographic, ranging from early twenty’s all the way up to people in their fifties, all of whom shared the common bond of love and admiration for this Manchester musician.

He laid the first little lick of “The Right Thing Right” over the intro they had taken the stage to, as he and his band quickly established the mood for this show, and it was going to be nothing short of an epic Rock ‘n’ Roll experience. Marr worked his way to the forefront of stage right during an instrumental break when he had a bit of a solo, allowing the fans a better look as is fingers danced about the frets and strings of his axe.

It, along with everything else that would come from that new album was well received, but it should be no surprise that covers from past projects (namely The Smiths) were what fans were also hoping to hear, and the roar was almost deafening when they rolled things right into “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before”. From the looks of it, nearly every person in the building was singing along to that twenty-six year old song, making it blatantly obvious that while no song would go unappreciated, it would be these classics that would be the most relished.

“Hello, hello, hello, Dallas!” shouted Marr, officially greeting everyone for the night. “And on a Saturday night as well!” he added, before they tackled another song from his new album, “Upstarts”. While no one seemed to know it, it was too striking of a song to be ignored, prompting some dancing from some fans, while others banged their heads along to the classic sounding rock number, which had a bit of a modern twist. As it reached the end, Marr grabbed his guitars’ cord, whipping it around while still strumming the strings with his other hand, before they seamlessly bled it into “Sun & Moon”.

Johnny Marr // Chris Eason Photography
“We’re only just getting started.” declared Marr after finishing the song, words which would be backed by action soon enough, and afterwards he asked the audience who all had his new record. Dozens and dozens of hands shot into the air, while others screamed at the top of their lungs. “…I believe some of you…” he responded, half joking with everyone, and half being serious that he didn’t buy that, that many people here already had “The Messenger”. That didn’t bother him, though. “…What matters is we’re all here now.” he stated, giving the impression that what he cared about most was that this massive collection of fans had come out to see him perform. He then mentioned the title of the next song, the fun and rather funky, “The Crack Up”.

Thanks to the drummer, the end of that song gave away to another old song of The Smiths, the fans cheering with glee upon realizing it was “Panic”. Once it concluded, Marr again chatted with the crowd. “Is someone smoking pot?! At a concert?!” he asked, pretending he was surprised, and this followed a remark from earlier in the night when he pointed out he was a big fan of “sharing”. They then marched on with the first single from his new record, “New Town Velocity”, an almost tranquil and beautiful number, a side that they pulled off exceedingly well. It went hand in hand with the next song, “The Messenger”, which saw the drummer using what I believe was an electronic drum pad. The most impressive moment came when guitarist James Doviak proceeded to clap along to the beat at one point, and, without instruction or anything, almost the entire room followed suit, clapping right along with him.

There was a short anecdote before the next song, as Marr said that the year before a book had been released in the UK called “The Crappiest Towns in the UK”. He said he watched an interview this author did on one news/talk show, where the author talked about his travels to all these smaller towns, only to write about how bad they supposedly are. “…And I thought, “Fuck this pompous dick!” Marr said of watching the interview. His opinion of the author, which embodied the rock spirit, was met with a lot of cheers, but Marr wasn’t done yet. “…So I wrote this song about those little towns, and when I wrote it, I thought, “I’m going to play this to all the lovely people in Dallas, Texas!” he added, the audience screaming at the top of their lungs at hearing the town mentioned. That song he wrote was “Lockdown”, and it was one of the highlights of their set.

The only glitch of their set came at the start of “Say Demesne”, when Doviak set his guitar down and turned to the keyboard, which refused to work properly at first, though it didn’t hinder the song, as Marr and the rest carried on with it, Doviak joining in when he was able. After that more toned tone song, the pace picked back up with “Generate! Generate!”, which Marr said was for “anyone who thinks they think too much, but don’t think twice about it…”.

After all that, they were due to do another Smiths track, and delivered with “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. No sooner had it ended, then Marr whistled towards the sky a few times before they ripped into “Word Starts Attack”, which quite possibly was the most energetic song of this night, with a blistering guitar solo that was purely captivating to watch, to all the jumping around Marr did during an instrumental break. He had said that early on that they were just getting started, and even now, as the night neared its end, it still appeared as if this was only the tip of the iceberg.

During one last interaction with the crowd, one fan shouted something at him, Marr answering him, then referred to him as “darling”. “…I’m not being sexist, I call guys darling and girls fellows…” he retorted, when someone tried to give him flak for it. The conversation lasted a minute or two, and it was all in good fun on everyone’s part, and when it came time to end, Marr announced he had an “old goodie from the old country”. Everyone was ecstatic to hear that it was “How Soon is Now?” Things also got a bit dicey on that final number of their 64-minute long set, when a fan at the front decided to jump on stage. The bands stage hands rushed to shove him off when they saw it happening, though the guy came close to reaching Marr, who gracefully dodged the advance by lifting his guitar vertically in the air, pulling his arm just out of reach of the fan. However, just when his crew thought they had it taken care of, the guy, who had maintained his balance on the stage, stood back up and carefully walked over the monitors and cables, before reaching Marr, whom he proceeded to gingerly hug, making sure to not impede his playing.

There was no ill intent or malice in his actions. Instead, from my perspective, it just looked like someone who wanted to show what was probably a longtime idol of his how much he loved and appreciated him. All the same, it was not the wisest move on his part, and resulted in him being forced to leave, after which Marr returned to the stage for the encore portion, which was every bit as epic as the main show had been.

He was the sole member on stage for several moments, lightly plucking at his guitar, easing them into the next song, which was eventually revealed to be “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”. It was extended several minutes from The Smiths version, repeating the verse many times over, allowing the beauty of its lyrics to fully wash over the crowd. Their 22-minute long encore, which was comprised entirely of covers, continued, this time with one that wasn’t associated directly with Marr. Originally, it was a song done by The Crickets, and Marr and his band mates put a fun, but still rocking spin on “I Fought the Law”.

They bridged it right into their next song, but first Marr took a few minutes to formally introduce his band, referring to a couple of them as being “badass”, and was the best description possible. He also thanked the openers, calling out not only the one that’s on this tour with him, but even the local Fort Worth based outfit, wishing them the best of luck. “Where was I?” he asked, quickly following it with, “Oh yeah, a riff.” That led them into a song from Marr’s days with Electronic, “Getting Away with It”. A fixture I had noticed since arriving was a disco ball hanging above the stage, and now, it was finally put to use, the lights going out except for a beam that hit and was refracted off it. It put everyone in even more of a dance mood, all the while Marr was crooning on the chorus, “Everywhere I look it’s clear to see, that I love you more than you love me…”

This phenomenal rock show was almost done, but in his final words of the night, Marr recalled a previous show here at the Granada Theater. He pointed out that he’s lucky enough to tour all over the world and play a bunch of great venues, but that the “old halls” like this are mostly gone, stating how lucky the people were to have a venue like this to go and see shows at. He’s right, too.

As for their closing number, it was of course one of The Smiths songs, and giving it a truly proper end was the gorgeous, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”. It even became an official sing along, as Marr ceased singing towards the end, allowing a chant of “There is a light that never goes out…” to rise up from the crowd, creating one of those ideal concert moments. One of those fleeting moments where, just for a few seconds, everyone is connected with one another. It doesn’t matter that practically everyone else is a complete stranger, for a moment you’re all one, and that is something everyone who was here this night will always remember, and it’s a moment that everyone should experience at least once.

He may not be a household name here in the US like Bruce Springsteen, or even Bono of U2, but in watching Johnny Marr this night, he certainly should be.

He’s a fantastic singer, and his chops on the guitar are hard to rival, going from shredding like no one’s business, to careful and calculated strumming that was still loaded with flare. And even at fifty, he’s still got the moves and energy, enough so that he could run circles around those who are even thirty years his junior.

I’d say I was impressed, but I don’t think even that word would be truly fitting for how wowed I was, and how I’m already eager to see another performance of Mr. Marr’s.

James Villa