Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. There’s a rift developing in the space time continuum. Somebodies been back to the future, slept with their mother, becoming their own father in the process and thereby putting the past’s future on a course that deviates from the one that we inhabit today.
Well they’re the only plausible explanations that I can come up with to make sense of how we’ve arrived at a point in time where the former GnR axeman, Slash, with all his ballsy swagger and bombasticity is headlining the O2 and Mr Johnny Marr, the guitarist and tunesmith extraordinaire of The Smiths, one half of one of the greatest song writing duos in the history of Rock and Pop is playing a race meet out in the ‘burbs to a seemingly mis-matched gathering of fanboys, fangirls and a smattering of lads and lassies out on the lash after some mid-week fluttering and corporate entertainment.
The assembled fans gathered on the barrier catch sight of Johnny and co exiting one of the balconies at the back of the Leopardstown Pavilion stand as they begin their journey to the stage. This results in a Beatles disembarking their plane at JFK Airport type of moment with Johnny giving the roaring masses a regal wave as he descends the stairs on his way to thread the boards. Finally on stage after the royal detour, the ever dapper and youthful Marr opens with ‘Upstarts’ from last year’s solo debut The Messenger. The band are sounding as tight and up for it as they did last year when they hit the Academy. Neither pausing for breath or a wee hello, they then launch into ‘Panic’, the first of tonight’s Smiths songs. Predictably enough the “Dublin, Dundee, Humberside“ line is greeted like an exile returning home.
Six songs into the set and Marr introduces ‘Easy Money’, the lead single from his forthcoming new album Playland. It’s a punchy little number that continues where last year’s album left off. “I bet Jay-Z is shitting himself” Johnny quips after it finishes. It’s the first of three new songs to be aired tonight. The second, ‘Candiate’ has a shoe-gazey guitar arpeggio vibe going on. And the final new track played tonight, ‘Boys Get Straight’ has a punky little outro going on that gets Johnny pogoing on stage and flailing at his guitar.
The new tracks are warmly received but let’s face it, despite the quality and variety of the songs on offer here tonight; we’re here for one reason and one reason only. We want to hear the songs that sound tracked our youth. We want to dance, groove and commune once more in the iridescent, shimmering flames of Marr’s jangly joyful and playful guitar lines.
We know it and he knows it. Johnny never leaves us waiting too long for a Smiths tune. Over the course of the night Johnny drops six of the best on us. The aforementioned ‘Panic’, ‘Stop Me…’, a storming ‘Big Mouth Strikes Again’ and, finishing off the first half of tonight’s show, ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’. Johnny dedicates his magnum opus to “everyone here and no one else”. That’ll be Mr Moz off the list then. The call and response is a tad karaoke and kitschy and the song tethers on the brink of collapsing into a mass pub sing along but the quality of the tune and the mastery of the man handling it help avoid the impending train wreck.
The four song encore contains another from his solo output, ‘Lockdown’ and, a Clash channelling, tour de force cover of ‘I Fought The Law’ as well as the remaining two Smiths songs. First up after the break is an incredibly lush rendition of ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’. Suddenly it’s 1984 all over again and we’re all transported back to our acne ridden selves listening to The Smiths and rejoicing that there is someone, somewhere out there that knows how we feel. The joy of discovering that you’re not alone in your loneliness is relived and remembered by the swaying punters as we’re caught up in the songs timeless beauty and poignancy. Marr’s vocal may lack the deeper baritone of Morrissey’s but, barring the seemingly unattainable re-union, this is as good as it gets. In a word, sublime. The parting shot for the night is the 80’s Indie kids anthem, ‘How Soon Is Now’, which is delivered in all its reverse loop oscillating glory. A damn fine way to finish a late summers evening at the gee-gees if ever there was one.
Any pre-gig nagging doubts about putting an artist of Marr’s calibre on such a bill proved to be unfounded. In a bizarre kind of way it worked. We’re no longer the angst riddled pimply yoofs that looked to Moz and Marr for solace, understanding and acceptance. We have transgressed adolescence and nurtured a whole new set of neuroses that seem more at home in a race tracks cathedral of optimism than in a beer and piss stenched sweaty club. Maybe the universal order was right all along.
Definitely not a case of race meet is murder.
Photo: Paulo Gonçalves