Review by Ryan Beardsley

I’m back at the Royal Festival Hall for part two of my Meltdown residency and as if Johnny Marr wasn’t enough, the criminally overlooked Mystery Jets are here to offer support.

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The Eel Pie Islanders shuffle onstage to a half full concert hall and look a little bit embarrassed by the situation, but they take the empty seats in their stride, and launch into power ballad Telomere, with the amazing acoustics displaying Blaine Harrison’s impressive vocal range.

It’s only a short set, including fan favourite Young Love, which appears to get a flicker of recognition from the largely nonplussed crowd. They wrap up with new single Hospital Radio, a call to arms in these troubled times to protect the NHS. Those who regularly read (Hi again, Mum) will know I’m not a big advocate of mixing politics and live music, but the boys are so earnest and the cause so universally important and apolitical, I will happily say this should be a number one single.

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And with that, go the most underrated British band of their generation. 

Nile Rodgers himself is back out on stage to introduce Johnny Marr, to be honest I had no idea how close the two were, I mean, did you know Johnny named his son after the great man? Some foreshadowing for you there… 

Johnny and his band strut onto the stage and kick off with The Tracers from his latest solo record Call The Comet and the crowd goes… mild. It’s at this point I get a little concerned, the Royal Festival Hall is a beautiful, seated venue but is it really the best spot for a genuine guitar hero?

Thankfully, the familiar tones of a Smiths classic are strummed and the entire crowd are on their feet for Bigmouth Strikes Again and it looks like I was panicking for nothing.  

The crowd remain standing and do their best to keep the party going through a slew of Johnny’s more recent solo work, but to be honest, it really feels as though most in attendance are simply waiting for The Smiths’ tracks.

It’s a little harsh on the band as his three solo records include some great moments, songs like Easy Money and New Dominions are catchy tunes that are performed tonight with passion and impeccable technique. But when you consider that this man was responsible for some of the greatest songs ever created, and he’s got them in his arsenal ready to drop at any moment, his solo work cannot help but pale in comparison.

Things perk up again with classic B side; You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby, an unexpected choice from the back catalogue but judging by the crowd and earlier reactions, it’s what everyone wants. We’re then treated to a couple of Electronic songs, Marr’s venture with Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant, Getting Away With It prompting the biggest sing along of the night, a truly great song that’s still as catchy as ever.

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Out of nowhere comes the most touching moment of the evening, as Johnny’s son Nile is invited on stage to play along with his old man for a spine tingling rendition of seminal track Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want. One of the greatest songs ever written is given an extended performance and it’s definitely one we’ll all remember.

Father and son combined again for A Certain Ratio track Shack Up, with the Marr’s sharing vocal duties this time, standing back to back wielding their guitars it’s clearly a special moment for the family and I can’t begrudge them that (even though nepotism is my pet peeve).

What can I say about How Soon Is Now that hasn’t already been said? I’ve seen it performed solo by Morrissey and Marr and it’s Johnny’s version that rings the true, hearing/seeing him perform that famous riff in person is a goosebumper and he clearly revels in the adoration.

We’re treated to an encore with a couple more Smiths classics, first Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me, where Johnny can’t quite hit the high notes and it’s an interesting choice rather than a more guitar driven track but Marr’s earnestness makes it work.

Last but by no means least is an extended version of There is A Light That Never Goes Out which includes another guest spot for Marr Jr and at one point it seems like the mass sing along will never end until Johnny finally relinquishes his hold on the crowd and says goodbye to a richly deserved standing ovation.

They’re never going to reform are they, but just imagine if they did.

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Set-list:
Tracers / Bigmouth / Armatopia / Day In Day Out / New Dominions / Hi Hello / You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet / Walk Into The Sea / Getting Away / With It / Get The Message / Spiral Cities / Please Please Please / Shack Up / This Charming Man / Easy Money / How Soon Is Now / Rise / Last / Night I Dreamt / There Is A Light

Image Credit: Victor Frankowski for Southbank Centre

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