Reviewed on Tuesday January 7

In his recent autobiography, Morrissey says of Johnny Marr: “[He] is safely tucked away as everyone’s friend – yet no-one’s”. It’s a customary double-edged assessment from the former Smiths singer, yet he did well to have Marr onside in the first place – for here is the man who fashioned a canvas for Manchester’s foremost exponent of musical misery. Without Marr’s guitar, indie rock – let alone The Smiths – would sound nothing the same.

Marr has spent most of the years since The Smiths’ demise featuring – albeit without underselling himself – as something of a session player to the stars. Modest Mouse, Oasis and The Cribs are among those who’ve shared the services of axe-for-hire Marr, but with The Messenger, he at last has a musical statement that’s his and his alone.

Three bandmates in tow, Marr covers much of the solo record tonight on his famous Fender Jaguar, off-white. Even after all those years as the sideman, it’s not such a shock to see him up front. He’s a stylish character in his aqua velvet jacket and silver painted nails, and while his voice lacks power and range, the parts are written to his abilities.

‘The Right Thing Right’ opens proceedings, but it’s not long before Marr launches into the material that made he and Morrissey famous. ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ is up, plus ‘Panic’ and a forceful ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’.

Of the newer efforts, the spacious and spacey ‘Say Desmesne’ is the most adventurous – the rest, passable rhythm-and-melody indie rock with the occasional football terrace refrain. But oh, the things this man can do with six strings and an amp.

The sing-alongs are saved for encores: on ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’, Marr and his crowd do a surprisingly decent impression of the absent Morrissey, and ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ is more optimistic than ever. For Marr, it’s the end of a world tour which started in February 2013, and he’s beaming.

As the saying goes, class is permanent; the choruses might not be there, but the licks sure are. Did anybody really pay to hear him sing anyway? When a master is at work, nobody minds if he whistles as he goes.

Image: Ashley Mar

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