He’s a few months late, but finally Johnny Marr is bringing the Playland tour to Australian Shores. Anticipation has built in the interim and as the strains of opening act Flyying Colours fade into the Sydney night. The dancefloor crowds, expectant, and out he swaggers - Johnny fucking Marr.
Mod-ish barnet sitting proud and lip jutting defiantly as he kicks into the title track of new LP Playland. All of a sudden the Enmore Theatre seems to shrink in the immediacy of his assault, as a sea of Dads collectively lose their shit. Knowing which side his bread is ultimately buttered, Johnny wastes no time in throwing us a Smiths classic, and just two songs in there’s panic on the streets of Enmore.
The band (who seem to include Ramsay Bolton on bass) are super tight and form a solid, sprightly backbone to the guitar sound. Oh man, that guitar sound. It shimmers and glistens beautifully as Johnny gurns and throws shapes into the crowd, ringed by a spectacular light show that casts odd haloes overhead.
It’s back to solo debut 'The Messenger' for The Right Thing Right before Playland single ‘Easy Money’. This song fucking bops, and everybody pogos accordingly. Midway through the set ‘The Headmasters Ritual’ is a surprising treat, before ‘Back in the Box’ and a glimpse at the brand new ‘Spiral Cities’.
Perhaps even more than his apparent agelessness and guitar work, it’s Johnny’s vocal prowess that is revelatory. This is no sideman vainly mumbling or sputtering under the glare of the centre spotlight - his voice is by turns urgent, plaintive and anthemic, silencing naysayers with each successive stanza.
“That was intense!” he exclaims after a thrillingly taut rendition of ‘Generate! Generate!’, before flashing a grin 'cos he knows what he has up his sleeve. The big guns are cresting the hill.
A thus far fantastically paced set goes thermonuclear with the opening jangle of ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’. The roar is fucking deafening, and the sheer amount of joy in the hall near impossible to register. It’s an effervescent highlight, but the best is yet to come.
‘Getting Away with It’ by Electronic merely serves as a reminder of what a quintessentially crap lyricist Bernard Sumner always was, but it’s a decent enough appetiser for the double decker bus that’s about to smash us right in the chops.
‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’. Just reciting the title is enough to induce goosebumps in many and tonight it erupts like a bliss bomb, it’s inherent melancholy ferried out the door, igniting the dancefloor as a chorus thousands strong sing every word just as they did whilst jumping up and down on their bed all those years ago, or even last week. Fucking magnificent.
The band briefly leaves the stage before returning for perhaps the highlight of the evening with ‘Please, Please, Please Let me Get What I Want’ - wistful as ever and yet strangely uplifting in its delivery, the mandolin agreeably supplanted by reverb drenched lines let to linger. It seems almost unfair to have access to this kind of ammunition. He is slaying everyone.
It seems churlish to mention ‘the M word’ but tonight’s showing makes Morrissey’s recent appearances at the Opera House seem turgid and overblown by comparison. There is a comfort, enjoyment and sense of abandonment on display here that was almost wholly absent from Morrissey’s more formal affair.
The recent Record Store Day exclusive cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘I Feel You’ is warmly received as anticipation builds for what many suspect is coming next, and sure enough the psychedelic guitar soup of ‘How Soon is Now’ begins spilling from the speakers onto a very thirsty crowd. Superlatives seem pointless at this juncture. He has conquered this room. Lifted it up, shaken it about and left it spent.
He then bafflingly attempts to eat his guitar, perhaps in an effort to further absorb its powers.
“See you next year” he smiles.
Yes you will Johnny.
Related: Check out our exclusive interview with Johnny here.