The massive, sold-out George Jones tribute at Bridgestone Arena threw a warm glow of legacy from the heart of downtown on Friday night — it’s a theme that seemed to permeate the rest of the city as well. Well, at least the two shows we attended.
From where we were standing at will-call booth, the man onstage at Marathon Music Works upon our arrival looked far too young to have founded legendary sad-bastard pioneers The Smiths. Turns out we'd regretfully missed opener Meredith Sheldon — blame our lethargy on the side effects of the sudden winter spell — but was there another band on the bill?
Our questions were answered with the unmistakable shimmer and twang of indie rock’s most influential guitarist, the 50-year-old Johnny Marr, and the inimitable magic floating out of his axe. Given his extended post-Smiths career as a sideman, it was apparent his skills as a frontman have gone underutilized for far too long. His banter was succinct and sassy but endearing in the way only a sassy, seemingly tipsy Englishman can deliver.
The band jammed effortlessly through nearly all 12 of the tracks from Marr’s first proper solo effort, this year's The Messenger. Marr’s gently angsty riffs and honeyed croon made it all sound very Smiths-y by nature, but with a hell of a lot more muscle. When Marr casually and inevitably dipped into his best-known works — Smiths numbers like “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and “How Soon is Now?” — the tempos were ramped up, with Marr eschewing former bandmate Morrissey’s dramatic delivery for a dulcet snarl of his own. Still, the dreamy jangle and razor-sharp guitar chops alone were worth the price of admission. Seriously, we’d have paid just to listen to the guy noodle by himself all night. Even when “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” (the set’s closer) were executed with historical authenticity, it didn't feel like a tribute to Marr's own legacy — we were seeing the guy execute ownership of these works, which will long outlive him.
We also seized the opportunity to catch Misfits — or at least, the band that was billed as legendary horror-core originators Misfits, who were launching into their set just as Johnny Marr was ending — over at Exit/In.
The Spin takes it as a given that most people wouldn't walk into a 2013 Misfits show expecting the same cryptic magic contained on 1982’s Walk Among Us. With this crowd, however, we had to wonder. O.G. punks, youngsters clad in leather jackets and bondage pants, and a few full-fledged Juggalos in full clown-face regalia were all pumping fists as sole original member Jerry Only, former Black Flag (current FLAG) guitarist Dez Cadena and drummer Eric Arce (Murphy’s Law) ripped through an extended list of the band’s best-loved material. Only belted the hits out to the best of his ability, but his highs just weren’t haunting, and his howl failed to inspire the kind of fear Glenn Danzig's lyrics were intended to create.
In fact, after having seen Only’s brother Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein perform just a few of these same tunes alongside original Misfits frontman Danzig in a controversial set at Bonnaroo 2012 — not to mention the countless cover bands that typically sprout in all directions come Halloween — The Spin has definitely seen better Misfits tributes. Honestly, we couldn’t help but feel as if there might be someone more qualified to perform this stuff, even if they’d never spent any time in the band.