Johnny Marr at August Hall, by Patric Carver

Johnny Marr (photo: Patric Carver)

I’m not one for organized religion, but I am starting to believe we are living in the End Times.

It’s not just that things aren’t going well, it’s as if things have become positively unhinged. There’s no break from the chaos; we’re in a storm without an eye. Every once in a while, a plucky piece of anamnesis swirling in the squall will smack you in the side of the head and there’s a brief, dizzying moment when you get to recall simpler times when hardly anyone was saying things like, “Hey, what are we going to do about all these Nazis?” and “I wonder who else the leader of the free world is going to insult on Twitter today!” You have a moment of clarity where things feel OK, or like they might eventually be OK.

I had a moment like this last Saturday at August Hall, a charming new jack-of-all-trades venue that hosts a music hall, restaurant, bar, and bowling alley. The place has an Fillmore-like feel in terms of intimacy. The very fact that this place opened recently is comforting. It’s a reminder that things — good things — can still happen.

In fact, great things can still happen. Johnny Marr graced the stage in support of his new album, Call the Comet. Marr has decades in the business behind him, but nothing about this album or his performance suggests that he’s in the twilight of his career. His ideas and execution are still so fresh, and he seems to earnestly be having a good time on stage. The talent that powered the Smiths is still safe with Marr. Say what you want about the genius of Morrissey, but abject moodiness and Obstinate Defiance Disorder can only get you so far in my book. The Smiths wouldn’t have been great without a great guitar guy behind them. Marr is such a man, and his spirit is still infectious.

Few things completely grab my attention, but when Marr “covered” the Smiths’ “Big Mouth Strikes Again,” it was as if the song were saturating me. Marr tore through it as if it had always been written just for him. One of my favorite Smiths songs, it was only improved by bigger guitar and Marr’s heavy vocals. Another highlight, "Bug," was from the new album. Droning but not dreary, this a political song that holds up as music in its own right. The guitar reminded me a bit of some of Marr’s work with Modest Mouse, which is some of his best and possibly most overlooked work. All in all, a fantastic set.

Marr will be returning to the Bay Area again on September 25 at the UC Theatre and September 26 at the Fillmore.

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