Johnny Marr remains vibrant at Buffalo’s Town Ballroom

Guitarist mixes Smiths’ classics with solo cuts Saturday night

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A Johnny Marr show is an evening of the past, present and future of the guitarist-turned-singer-songwriter who continues to push on 40 years into an exceptional career.

The legendary Smiths founding member and guitarist performed at the Town Ballroom on Saturday night. Marr hardly remained centered throughout the evening, jumping around the stage with haste and moving closer toward the crowd with each heavy riff and solo. Marr’s current tour is in support of his third solo album, “Call the Comet.” 

A sold-out crowd welcomed Marr to the stage after the opening notes of “The Tracers,” a cut from “Call the Comet.” Marr set the tone for the 20-song set with echoing, distorted guitars mixed with heavy drums. He wasted little time jumping into the set and performed the first three tracks seamlessly without interruption.

Marr followed his newer work with a Smiths’ classic “Big Mouth Strikes Again.” Lifelong fans made themselves known from the beginning of the track, as cheers and shouts of joy reverberated throughout the venue.

But Marr was willing to give the crowd more.

The crowd responded well to the entirety of the set and gave strong applause to newer works as well as classics. Marr maintained a demeanor of comfort with tracks he has either performed on or penned himself. Identifying a Johnny Marr riff is easy from the first listen. 

Marr became one with his guitar riffs, as each track showed off his impassioned facial expression and focus that made Town Ballroom’s capacity feel twice as large. Patrons were energetic throughout the set and often requested their favorite track to which Marr replied at the end of the show “Has anyone got any requests?”

Marr didn’t deviate from the setlist, despite crowd pleas to play “This Charming Man.”

The set took several turns away from Smith's or Marr’s solo discography. The guitarist performed disco tracks “Getting Away With It” and “Get the Message” from Marr’s first solo venture following the dissolution of the Smiths.

Tracks like “Hey Angel” added depth to the set. Marr amped up the strength and volume of his vocals, projecting a hard-rock sound to the majority of tracks off “Call the Comet.”

Marr barely addressed the capacity audience with words throughout the night but eased into a narrative as the evening progressed. He began with simple anecdotes, and thanked the crowd for “making the trip.”

Instead of talking all night, he let the music speak for itself.

Smiths tracks “The Headmaster’s Ritual” and “Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me” were standouts in the set, giving fans a strong showing of Smiths’ tracks. Marr’s shift toward singer and front man of his current solo project shows signs of adjustment. Morrissey’s absence gave each Smiths track something to yearn for, even as Marr put his own spin on the tracks with extended solos.

Marr saved the quintessential “How Soon is Now?” for last. The track was without introduction as Marr effortlessly jumped into the masterly tremolo-driven riff that echoed throughout Town Ballroom. Marr stayed true to the original composition, while finding time to boast exceptional chops with extended medleys that turned into solos.

Marr thanked the crowd before asserting “[I’ll] see you real soon, hint hint.”

Marr and company quickly returned to the stage for several encores, beginning with the enigmatic “Rise.” Marr closed the evening with tracks “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby.”

Brian Evans is the senior arts editor and can be reached at brian.evans@ubspectrum.com and @BrianEvansSpec