Music & Nightlife

Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr enjoying the stage while embracing old and new

Johnny Marr will perform at Neighborhood Theatre on Sunday night.
Johnny Marr will perform at Neighborhood Theatre on Sunday night.

The Smiths released four albums in as many years, but the British band’s legend has lived on decades past its five-year run between 1982 and 1987. Guitarist Johnny Marr has gone on to score films and play with Electronic, Modest Mouse and The Cribs, among others, as well as recording as a solo artist.

His solo career has picked up speed in the past six years, which brought more live shows in the U.S. The tour for his third solo album, 2018’s “Call the Comet,” brings him to Neighborhood Theatre for the first time Sunday.

“I’d been touring with Modest Mouse and also with The Cribs around Europe and got really very into playing live,” Marr says. “That was something that came to me in the last 10 or 15 years. When I was younger, I didn’t really like touring. Mostly because I was so determined to keep making records.”

That would explain why The Smiths were so prolific.

“One thing about that band was we never needed anybody to tell us to put our foot on the gas or raise the bar or make any artistic leaps. We were always having those discussions,” he says. “We were always three steps ahead of ourselves.”

“I had someone that worked at my pace,” he says of Morrissey, The Smiths’ infamous vocalist whose snide but insightful lyrics touched on classicism and British politics.

While Marr sees some similarities between the often-maligned-in-song leaders Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and current politics, he abstained from making an overtly political record post-Brexit.

“The isms of Thatcherisms and the omics of Reaganomics were astoundingly brazen. Certainly viewing it from afar, the Trumps of the world kind of remind me of that,” Marr says. “Frankly, when a third-rate B-movie actor was elected, we thought we’d seen it all. How wrong we were.”

In hindsight, it might not have been so bad.

“The arrogance and hubris is reminiscent, but the latent disregard for honesty, protocol and office is something I’ve never witnessed before in my life. As destructive as she was, you sensed with Thatcher there was someone at least competent in their destruction.”

Instead of dwell on the negatives while writing “Call the Comet,” Marr put his focus elsewhere.

“I don’t know how I did it,” he says. “The process of making the album did remind me of the resolve I had as a teenager, thinking ‘This is B.S. I’m going to play my guitar and write some songs. In a strange way, it did me a favor artistically.”

For Marr, entertainment has become its own form of protest.

“The best thing singers, playwrights, actors, comedians and musicians can do is to just try and do good work to entertain people from a good place,” he says. “You don’t have to get on a soapbox. I kind of felt the best thing I can do is keep the communication going with my audience and stay idealistic. Keep your idealism not only about human nature and society, but more importantly about what you do.

“In my case, that’s rock music. That’s as good as I can get.”

Johnny Marr

When: 8 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.

Tickets: $30-$35.

Details: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.

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