The long-awaited appearance from Johnny Marr and his healers finally took place on Saturday night in the City By The Bay. Ever since hearing his "Last Ride" single in late 2001, I'd be eagerly awaiting further music and a US tour and it had finally arrived. I wondered how the ex-Smiths guitar god's songs would translate live and what kind of groove the veteran rhythm section of bassist Alonza Bevan (ex-Kula Shaker) and drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr's son) would lay down behind Marr. It was now time to find out.
The festivities were led off by L.A.-based singer/songwriter/one-man army Mellowdrone (Jonathan Bates). I managed to catch the last half of his set and it was reminiscent of his Artist Direct-released 6-track EP, A Demonstration Of Intellectual Property. His one-man army was doubled by the presence of a drummer, and his songs still possessed all the passion and urgency found on his EP. Bates' vocals are quite similar at times to Thom Yorke or James Grundler of Paloalto and with the songs he has written and the upcoming tours he's featured on (soon to come support dates for both Paul Weller and Interpol), one figures we may be hearing much more from Mellowdrone.
And now it was time for the main event. The decidedly upper-demo (30+) crowd anxiously awaited the live debut of their '80s hero. In the US, and SF particularly, the lore of The Smiths grew larger and larger after the 1987 demise of the band, and while all the fanatics had already possessed many opportunities to see Morrissey, this was the initial offering for many to catch Johnny live and in action. And singing! A three-piece on record, they expanded by one with the addition of rhythm guitarist James Doviak, and the live sound was fleshed out accordingly. Johnny's voice sounded much like it did on Boomslang, and his recognizable guitar playing shone through. The crowd was loudly supportive, especially as 95% of them hadn't heard his album, which drops today. Bevan and Starkey were extra tight, especially Starkey who played one of the most effortless drum sets I'd ever seen. The show consisted primarily of album tracks, with "Down On The Corner," 'Caught Up," and "You Are The Magic" shining brightly. But the two best songs of the evening were initial UK single "Last Ride," shimmering it all its Charlatans meets Oasis meets The Stone Roses glory and Marr's plaintive cover of "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" by Bob Dylan, a stripped down number with Bevan on keys and Johnny's jangly guitar conjuring the ghost of The Smiths circa "Asleep" or "Unlovable." A spine-tingler for sure and one of the most memorable moments in an strong debut showing from one of alternative music's greats.