From another mouth, he’s right, it would sound like bullshit, but when Johnny Marr tells us that this is the gig they’ve been most looking forward to on this tour you take him at face value. And at certain points of tonight’s set – particularly those that take us back to Marr’s ‘80s band – it’s easy to see why. But then, has there been a venue in any locale where a thousand voices bellowing “To die by your side/ Is such a heavenly way to die” doesn’t have the ability to raise the hairs on the back of your neck? So it was at Electric Picnic in 2013, so it was at Leopardstown Racecourse last year, so it is in The Olympia tonight. It’s testament to the acceptance of Marr as a solo entity, though, that by and large it’s no longer just The Smiths’ back catalogue that raises the biggest cheers.
His name is writ large on the backdrop, and Marr is the focus of the stage. His three bandmates surround him; solid, yet enveloped in smoke and shadow while Marr, with a small garland of red and white flowers hanging from his belt, cuts a kinetic figure in their midst. Strobes flare off as the drum intro heralds ‘Playland’, then an early-set ‘Panic’ sees Marr dispense some slide guitar soloing. He’s not adverse to the odd bit of rock’n’roll posturing – guitar pulled away from his body with the head aimed at the ceiling, or a brief Townshend-esque birdman move – but it’s so low-key and backed up with playing that is beyond reproach that it bypasses rock cliché.
“This is the best I’ve felt all day and that’s really saying something. I’ve just had a donut” he tells us, then later a more cryptic contemplation – “Why, oh why, oh why did I get so fucked up in Nandos?” As rhetorical stage banter goes, it’s impenetrable, but when the ensuing, rocking ‘Boys Get Straight’ breaks directly into the funkier stomp of ‘Word Starts Attack’, it’s not with the demeanour of a man who has the chicken sweats. And Marr’s a vegan… the sub-plot thickens.
‘Spiral Cites’ (“a brand new song, but don’t be afraid”) recalls New Order when it kicks in – as yet unrecorded but getting its live trial – and seems to pave the way for what’s about to follow. Electronic’s ‘Getting Away With It’ (“a disco song from Manchester”) then proves a mid-set high point, with a disco ball dotting the venue in light as Marr gears up to a lengthy solo; eyes closed stage front, before launching back into its bouncing finale.
This is dedicated to “everybody here – just us lot, and nobody fucking else” Marr tells us before ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’. He told us that the last time, and the time before that too. In those moments, though, there is nobody else – just us lot. Love-ins don’t come much better, and Marr knows it, cutting the music to let the crowd repeatedly sing the chorus before one final, euphoric crescendo.
‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’ pulls The Smiths thread through to the encore, and Marr is joined by support act Man Made’s singer for a snappy run through of The Primitives’ ‘Crash’. ‘There Is a Light…’ is a tough one to top, but ‘How Soon Is Now’ comes as close as anything could. That persistent oscillating guitar rings out around the venue, and Marr detunes his strings to add even more of a woozy pull to his solo before extending the coda for one final, full-throated crowd vocal. As it ends, he stands triumphant, arms aloft – the pleasure, the privilege…all ours.
Johnny Marr photographed for State by Kieran Frost.