Sunday night saw two incredible talents on the bill at historic St. Andrews Hall. Former Smiths guitarist and songwriter Johnny Marr was in town in support of his new disc, Playland and he brought along rising star Meredith Sheldon to open the night. Ms. Sheldon has broken away as a solo act with a stripped down and strikingly dynamic sound while Johnny brought out an airtight backup band to rip through his material, both old and new.
With an inauspicious start to the night, Meredith Sheldon took the stage with just the aid of an open-tuned, black fender guitar to polite applause. You may recognize Ms. Sheldon from her previous project Alamar, who opened for Johnny Marr on his last US tour. If you're not familiar with her, just picture the lovechild of Jeff Buckley and PJ Harvey, who happens to look a bit like Natalie Portman. Her sweet demeanor belies the weight and intensity of her material. While not overly heavy or aggressive, her mix of unorthodox chords and sweet, soaring vocals left this reviewer quite transfixed. While playing a mix of older material (if you consider 2012 a long time ago) and untested, super new songs, Meredith added in a spot-on cover of The Replacements' gem, "Answering Machine." The crowd grew in size and enthusiasm as her sat drew to a close, with the promise of a new album next year.
After a brief stage change, the crowd swelled with anticipation for the veteran rocker Marr, who has enjoyed a resurgence of success with his first full-length The Messenger, released just tow years ago and this year's follow-up, Playland. While his new material is extremely well-crafted and vital, it was obvious from the opening chords of "Panic", that the crowd was most fired up to hear Smiths songs. With a business-like professionalism, Marr and his young mates blasted through note-perfect renditions of classic tracks like "Headmaster Ritual" and newer material like his current single, "Easy Money."
To the untrained ear, it would be hard to differentiate the old from the new, his band was that tight and his performance with that fresh. There was no malaise at dragging out the old hits, and there was no over-indulgence or filler. Having seen both Morrissey and Marr on separate occasions, I can say without a doubt that Marr's version is far more vital and authentic. As such, all the cell phones in the house were ablaze as the band led into the opening sounds of closing number "How Soon Is Now."
And perhaps the most fitting track of the night was the last song of the encore, the Smith's haunting ballad "There is a Light That Never Goes Out."