Recap: Johnny Marr at August Hall, San Francisco

Johnny Marr is a unique figure in the music biz.

He’s the foremost go-to collaborator having worked with everyone from Modest Mouse to Hans Zimmer, a legendary half of one of the most beloved modern rock bands of the last 50 years and most surprisingly a noteworthy solo act both live and on record as not only a guitar player but song-writer and lead vocalist.

Shockingly he seems to do this all with little visible effort.  He continues to be the epitome of cool, a snappy dresser, a sharp interview and still able to make the girls swoon. That may sound over the top but most heartthrobs who graced posters in the ’80s have not aged as well and are lucky to play state fairs let alone sell out venues. Marr has avoided becoming a legacy act relying on greatest hits by continuing to churn out quality work from the minute he went solo to now without a break. In the past Marr’s solo albums were commendable affairs but often a little uneven with his guitar work overpowering the rest of the songs.

His upcoming release, Call the Comet is a late career surprise that finds Marr singing with the confidence you’d expect from someone entering their fifth successful decade in the business. Comet has a jolt of electricity flowing through every track with the breezy sound his collaborators specifically seek him out for. Marr has gone for a more political bent than we’re used to from him but somehow avoids being preachy. It seems he’s tapped into the undercurrent of anxiety throughout the world that often feeds great music. The result is a perfect top down rock album that we rarely hear these days.

Even better, the album translates live so well that Saturday night’s audience in San Francisco bounced up and down as if they knew every song even though it’s a whole two weeks before release. The setlist struck a perfect balance of solo work, a beloved electronic hit (“Getting Away With It”) and of course some Smiths classics that sent people into the streets singing and dancing. A sold out promo tour seems to have encouraged Marr as he has already announced a return to the bay for 3 separate shows in the fall (four if you count Santa Cruz!)

From the crowd’s response Saturday, it’s safe to say those shows will no doubt sell out even if after all this time Marr has not. Check out the highlights below:

photo by: David Iskra