I learned a new phrase last weekend: Fauxchella. It describes the pre- and post-Coachella trickle of shows around here -- and across Southern California, if you know where to go -- by bands booked for the festival. I haven't indulged in the offerings as much lately, but it's nice to have the option. This year, Fauxchella brought Johnny Marr to the Fillmore, and a quick visit to say hi to friends in line turned first into an extra ticket, then into a exultant evening for everyone convened.
Johnny Marr, the Fillmore, April 13, 2013: If you ever visit my apartment and thumb through my vinyl, you're guaranteed to notice a large segment of import albums and 12-inch singles by my teenage obsessions: Duran Duran and the Smiths. At the time, I had no idea how diametrically opposed they were in terms of style, influences, and image. To this immigrant Asian-American suburban kid, these pale, skinny British men were the definition of exotic and otherworldly. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the two bands set my expectations for all ensembles to come and dictated the parameters of my musical tastes. I probably favor the jangly Smiths side these days, but I can fall for a solid, saucy stomper in the mold of Duran Duran now and again.
Duran Duran has mostly fallen off my radar these days, but Johnny Marr has not, due in large part to his work with a huge range of musicians, two of whom happen to be my favorites. Of course, I'm talking about Neil Finn and, by extension, Jeff Tweedy when they worked on the second 7 Worlds Collide project. But even if he hadn't branched out, Johnny's legacy would need no further burnishing.
As I hadn't originally planned to see this show, I didn't know what to expect, but the whispers among the more dedicated fans indicated we'd hear some classics tonight. Johnny wasted little time teasing us along -- the second song of the set was "Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before." Contrary to the directions imparted, we did not stop him.
Over the years, I've probably used the phrase "the modern Lennnon/McCartney" way too many times without realizing what it actually meant. I thought it signified any amazing songwriting team, and that's exactly what Morrissey and Marr were to me. But truth be told, I homed in on Morrissey's angsty lyrics and didn't give a ton of thought to what Johnny brought to the table, even though his talent practically slapped me in the face every time I put on "How Soon Is Now" -- which I put on a lot. That changed when I heard Bryan Ferry's voice over Johnny's arrangements in "The Right Stuff," aka "Money Changes Everything," b-side to "Bigmouth Strikes Again." (See above for my actual record that I apparently got signed a long time ago.) So that's what Johnny did for all those songs.
This same revelation hit again when Johnny rolled out "Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before." The lyrics and melody are infectious like an old girl-group chart topper, but listen to that opening swell and syncopation, then settle in for the jangly blanket of guitar that wraps up the rest of the tune. I'd also be remiss not to point out that, unlike so many songs of the time, the drums don't sound like they were recorded in a drafty, haunted hangar. The song has great bones, to borrow a phrase.
Overall, Johnny dedicated about one-third of his set to Smiths songs, including "London," a deep album cut that may have been the biggest surprise of the night. Actually, I take that back -- "Getting Away With It" from his Electronic phase was the biggest shocker of the night. Nope, that's not right either because the guest spot by Billy Duffy (from the Cult) blew us all way.
(At this point, I need to throw in another sidebar and mention that a good friend adored the Cult, and we listened to a lot of their records in the '90s -- so you can kind of imagine my amazement at this combo. I didn't even know Billy was from Manchester! Now back to the blog.)
Johnny prefaced Billy's appearance with a sweet story about how they'd known each other for a long time and believed in each other and supported one another through the years. I'm a sucker for rocker rapport, and I probably secretly cling to the belief that all the best musicians live together in the same house a la the Beatles in Help! Short of an invitation to that dinner party, I'll accept displays of concert-side conviviality to boost my spirits.
The two of them closed out the show with a cover of "I Fought the Law" and the Smiths' own "How Soon Is Now." I am and always will be a planner, but by the time they left the stage, there was no doubt this spontaneous Saturday night decision worked out pretty well.
What about Johnny's new songs? They sounded great and offered further evidence of his ongoing evolution. This man is not about to rest on his laurels -- or rest, period, judging by his bounce and dedication onstage. Within a couple of songs, he was already soaked in sweat, and he didn't get as much as a towel throughout the evening. When he returned for the encore with his own "Johnny Fucking Marr" shirt from the merch booth, you could hardly blame him or hold such a cocky move against him. I mean, isn't that what we've been calling him all these years anyway?
This is the 40-something talking, so bear with me: I will never deny my love of '80s music, but at the same time, so-called nostalgia acts aren't my thing either. Still, when you see Johnny Marr killing a room like that, you need to shut up and sing out for at least one night.
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