Johnny Marr sometimes bristles when people bring up the Smiths. It was, after all, nearly 30 years ago that Marr, then only 23, left that group, and the guitarist has spent the past decades busy with a fruitful series of new bands and projects. Still, it was Marr who waited so long to release his formal solo debut, this year's "The Messenger," and if that fine album was the principal reason he and his three-piece band played the Metro Thursday, it was likely his formidable past work that attracted so many to the club.
To Marr's credit, he didn't shy away from his time in the Smiths, peppering the set with renditions of such choice crowd-pleasers as "Bigmouth Strikes Again," "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" and "How Soon is Now?,' still stunners even with Marr singing in place of his former partner Morrissey. Marr even dusted off a couple of tracks from Electronic, his band with New Order's Bernard Sumner, including the wonderful "Getting Away With It." Yet Marr steadfastly kept the larger focus on songs from "The Messenger," making its case in the context of his wide-ranging career with subtle stylistic nods to his formative days.
"Word Starts Attack" may not be quite the song that "Bigmouth" is, but its jittery, angular strutting nonetheless made a surprisingly strong companion. The same went for the fuzzed out "Sun and Moon," no match for the Smiths' manic "London" but a tough sounding descendent all the same, driven by big riffs in the proud British Invasion mold (both '60s and '90s waves). And then there was the matter of Marr himself, released from the restraint required of a sideman and clearly relishing his belated role as frontman, his moves not the sort practiced in front of a mirror but born of a passion for music that continues to drive him to match past heights.
"That's a good one," Marr conceded following the ever-gorgeous "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out," murmured modestly with respect for the Muse, knowing the next good one could be right around the corner.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun