Monday, January 30, 2006

Johnny Marr Plays Guitar

...and sings like a godlike being.

Saturday was the Manchester v Cancer gig at the Arena, Andy Rourke's chums all overcoming their differences in the name of charidee. But that's not being fair; it was a terrific night and most of the performers seemed pretty sincere, even if it came very close to spilling over into self-parody at times; sort of a Manchester Music 101 for anyone who wasn't here at the time (and I'm guessing we all were).

We arrived in the middle of Bez's band's set, which was predicatably messy, and the relatively tuneful yelpings of the skinny redheaded woman co-vocalist only highlighted Bez's own tuneless incoherence. Bad Idea, kids. Then we got a worthwhile contribution from Utah Saints (didn't know they were local) before a set from the majestic 808 State and MC Tunes, for FAR TOO SHORT A TIME. Then Stephen Fretwell (or he might have been before, or later, I forget), then some geezers called Nine Black Alps, who I hadn't heard of. They were a bit boring. Then I think Elbow, then I think it was Badly Drawn Boy, who looked all cute in his woolly hat and forgot the words. Andy Rourke came on and played bass on a number, and goodness me, he looked just like our Shane with a mullet.

Mani from the Roses spun a couple of Mondays singles. He was enthusiastic but I got the impression he hadn't DJ'd before. Never mind, the crowd loved him. Then came the suckerpunch. Johnny Marr's band, The Healers, wandered on, Johnny introduced them, and then came the deadly, dreadfully familiar strains of 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out', and when Johnny sang take me out tonight it brought tears to my eyes. I'm not talking about one or two discreet dampnesses in the corner of the eye here, I'm talking Proper Crying, the best kind, where the tears flow freely, without any pain or raggedness of breath. From time to time it happens, I lose myself, and the emotions get so big they just spill out every which way, and not only do I lose control, I do it ecstatically.

After a handful of Healers songs, pretty fine but not godlike, Andy Rourke joined them for 'How Soon Is Now'. The Smiths have had the capacity to knock me off balance for a long time. I told P on the way home, about having to get away from the music when 'This Charming Man' came on at a party, and although I have since managed to sit through that and other songs in places like Fab Cafe, it's only with a certain amount of nerve. If you'd asked me in 1988 whether the Smiths or the Cure were more important to me, I'd have said the Cure, but dammit, the force of just 2 original Smiths playing just 2 Smiths songs, all these years later, was like some tremendous monster; something squamous pressing against the fabric of reality, threatening to come through and change everything.

After that, the rest of the evening was a comedown. Doves played a great set, and sweetly gave up stage space to guest stars, having the guy from Elbow, Damon Gough and Johnny Marr back, and Barney from New Order. Mr Scruff kept it real (a bit too real for P, who felt no need for Ian Dury in a DJ set). Or, you know, that might have been earlier, it's all a bit of a muddle in me head. 'Cause we had Graeme Park on the decks at some point as well, and he was top banana.

New Order, for some reason, decided only to play Joy Division songs. Transmission, Twenty-Four Hours, She's Lost Control, (I'm missing some here I didn't catch the titles of, or recognise - P would know), Love Will Tear Us Apart and Ceremony. All huge and chilling and wonderful, but pretty damn wierd in an arena setting. The crowd seemed kinda stunned, and mostly stood very still.

Lots of people obviously had to go catch last trains/buses, because they scrambled out of their seats after the New Order set, even though the house lights hadn't come up. Some people half-heartedly chanted 'Manchester, Lalala' (possibly the lamest chant in the world evah), and the foot stamping never got co-ordinated. Is foot-stamping a lost art? The gigs of my teenage years were always graced with a rousing round of stamping and clapping before the encore, which always always managed to sweep the entire crowd into a united rhythm that shook the walls. It doesn't seem to happen any more.

Eventually Manchester's finest shuffled back on to the stage, a great line of scruffy men with guitars, who all seemed more or less clueless as to what was going on. They sputtered into the riff from 'Wrote For Luck', and just as we were thinking "Oh no, surely Bez isn't going to sing again", La Ryder shows up, face completely covered by a hood, like the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, in scally form. It went on a long time. It was amusing to watch, but I was outside of myself by that point. I had no euphoria left. (It's possible that seeing Shaun Ryder eating chips off a bin in Whythenshawe that one night has rendered me incapable of hero-worhip. It shouldn't outweigh those incredible gigs at ULU when I came home black and blue after the Mondays deliberately started fights in/with the audience. But.)

Take me out tonight
Where there's music and there's people
and they're young and alive