Johnny Marr + Mystery Jets – Meltdown, Royal Festival Hall, London (8th August 2019)

First held in 1993, Meltdown has grown to become one of the UK’s most anticipated annual music events. Taking place at London’s Southbank Centre, the festival features a mix of music, art, performance and film and is directed by a different established artist each year; responsible for choosing the performers. Last week saw the 26th Meltdown put in the hands of producer, musician and sonic trendsetter Nile Rodgers; inviting long time friend Johnny Marr along to headline the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday night.

Support came from Indie Rock band Mystery Jets, who opened with the austere ‘Telomere’ from the 2016 released ‘Curve of the Earth’. Mystery Jets have been delivering infectiously catchy hooks and choruses since forming in 2003 and despite working with a criminally short set, they more than impressed with timeless singles ‘Young Love’, ‘Serotonin’ and ‘Bubblegum’. Though the band’s talents certainly don’t end there and the downbeat ‘Bombay Blue’ gave them the opportunity to showcase their versatility; with its scuzzy guitar and soaring vocals from front-man Blaine Harrison. The set came to an end with the stirring ‘Hospital Radio’; an ode to the NHS and the staff that have helped Blaine, who has spent a large portion of his life in hospitals due to his Spina Bifida. ‘A Billion Heartbeats’, the band’s sixth studio album will be released into the wild on 27th September.

When it was time for the main act, Nile Rodgers himself welcomed his “dearest friend in the world” to the stage with a heart-warming introduction. Johnny launched into ‘The Tracers’ before delivering the first Smiths track of the evening, ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, getting everybody out of their seats and setting the tone of the evening. Next came a sprinkling of solo tracks; kicking off with the synth-fueled ‘Armatopia’ before moving on to ‘Day In Day Out’, ‘New Dominions’ and ‘Hi Hello’ – whilst things took a dark and brooding turn for the electro-noir ‘New Dominions’, the Royal Festival Hall’s acoustics perfectly complimented both the upbeat acoustics of ‘Day In Day Out’ and the shimmeringly brilliant ‘Hi Hello’. ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby’ – which has been missing from Johnny’s current run of dates – received a raucous response, as did his Electronic choices; ‘Getting Away With It’ and ‘Get The Message’. Renowned for it’s stunning delivery, ‘Getting Away With It’ was even more spectacular than usual, as disco balls lit up the already picturesque venue whilst Johnny took to the edge of the stage for his iconic guitar breakdown. The unexpected addition of ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’ was another moment of pure ecstasy. Joined by his son – and fellow guitarist – Nile Marr, it was an incredibly poignant moment as the awe-stricken crowd fell silent whilst the pair worked their magic, before teaming up for a funky cover of Banbarra ‘Shack Up’.

When it comes to writing a set list, Johnny certainly ticks the ‘career spanning’ and ‘crowd pleasing’ boxes. Catering for fans of all areas of his career, he’s spent the Summer switching his set-lists up and the crowds equally sound reaction to his solo material and both Smiths and Electronic tracks speaks volumes about his song writing. This was particularly evident during his performance of ‘Rise’ on Thursday night; tackling the topic of the rise of the right wing, it served as a breezy opener to the encore in the same fashion that it opens the guitar God’s latest album, ‘Call The Comet’. A goose-bump inducing rendition of ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ followed, with its chilling piano intro – courtesy of multi-instrumentalist James Doviak – and pure emotion glistening through Johnny’s vocals. There’s only one song that could top such a striking track and that’s Smiths anthem ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’, dedicated by Johnny to everybody in the room and seeing Nile welcomed to the stage once more. All we have to say is that the pleasure, the privilege was ours.

‘The Bright Parade’, the new single from Johnny Marr is out now from all digital stores.