ARTICLE BY TONY MOLINA
NOV. 4 | SANTA MONICA—The ultimate dream show is probably if a legendary artist performs in your living room. Sounds impossible, but that's the environment KCRW created at Apogee Studios, featuring a rare appearance from one of rock's most cherished musicians—Johnny Marr! And to reiterate—he performed in a space the size of a living room. The lucky few in the audience was able to experience an unforgettable evening at an unimaginable gig. For die-hard loyalists to the English rock scene, the cherished and historical BBC Sessions, or any John Peel Sessions recordings, the true spirit of bands performing on those forums was captured here tonight.
Respecting how special it is for an artist to perform in that kind of atmosphere, KCRW In Sessions fosters a wonderful, rare studio experience. As a part of music history, these raw live performances perfectly showcase a musician's talent, creating the ultimate dream show by inviting an audience to see it all. The chills went straight into your mind at the sight of the Apogee Studios' floor filled with Johnny Marr's gear. KCRW DJ Jason Bentley extended a warm welcome and informed the audience that the person engineering the mix for this gig was history himself, Bob Clearmountain. His art of engineering has touched all our lives, from Bryan Ferry and David Bowie to Bruce Springsteen and now Johnny Marr!
Tonight's set would prove the sonic talents of an artist who has graced our life's listening palette and laid the rails down for a generation to come. In the spotlight as both the band leader and lead guitarist, Johnny Marr charged on stage with the weapon Leo Fender gave him, looking calm and collected. He was all business tonight—diving straight into his cuts from new album The Messenger. Beginning with "The Right Thing," "Upstarts," and "Sun & Moon," Johnny Marr shows he does it all. Think of the charging of The Jam, the power of Pete Townshend, Chrissy Hynde-like hooks, and the soul of Rory Gallagher. Johnny Marr's solo debut touches upon what drove him to pick up an ax in the first place. And I wan't surprised that he was singing with a smooth Paul Weller delivery.
Marr introduced his new single "New Velocity," a stand-out track that brings together the guitar essence we all know and love with his graceful, emotional, haunting, and melodic chord arpeggios. This is the most delicate and romantic that a textural guitar can sound, yet complex as hell to play. Marr, however, goes through these sequences effortlessly, with a passionate vocal to accompany the dreamy guitar lines. The overall mood really touches upon the sound and time of the other band he was in, The Smiths. All seriousness aside, the night was charmed with Marr's wit, which was in top form. Before performing "Lockdown," he described his motive for the tune as a protest song about a smart-ass writer who toured the U.K.'s TV talk shows to talk about his new book, U.K.'s Crappiest Towns. Marr was determined to get back at the writer by defending his territory with a good 'ole indie song. He went on to discuss a chapter from his week-long residency in California, describing the gig the night before at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. "No joke, we played in a cemetery. Old dead bodies, everything. Comes in handy that it was a cemetery," said Marr. Whatever sets the mood for him, it worked with the positive spontaneity of being in the moment, such as when Marr likened the unpredictability of the studio lights to the tone of his music. Rawness like this is what makes the live music experience so special, because the musician's personality is shown in between songs. Marr's depth, soul, and spirit truly came alive during "Say Demesne," a sonically enchanting portrayal of the personalities of his hometown street. It's a beautiful, mystical track that sounded even better live.
In addition, Marr performed his own renditions of Smiths classics, including "Bigmouth Strikes Again" and the romantic, bittersweet plea of "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want." Glancing around the audience, I saw many who had closed their eyes and were whispering the lyrics that still had a place in their hearts. Marr then performed the anthem by the gunslinger who came into our town strummin'—Sonny Curtis's "I Fought The Law." Ending with "How Soon Is Now," Marr's performance reminded us that The Smiths was for a short while our Beatles.
This evening celebrated a man's musical life: beautiful, haunting, sad, and inspiring. At Marr's departure, there was some uncertainty and sadness about if and when this music would be performed live again. KCRW In Sessions captured what Johnny Marr's legacy is—lightning in a bottle. Tonight's experience of his music in this personal, intimate atmosphere presents the beautiful bond and connection between the listener and live radio performances. Thank goodness KCRW holds true to the traditions of radio. Simply because we cherish our music.