Anybody who knows me knows my mad passion for guitar music. My formative years were spent listening to the mighty Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Stephen Stills and Pete Townshend. For me, the Eighties were when I discovered Adrien Belew, Robert Fripp, John McLaughlin and Pat Metheny. The whole course of my life was permanently altered the first time I heard Ralph Towner and Michael Hedges at a friend’s house (I became a concert promoter because of that). Unfortunately, because of my deep immersion in jazz during that time, I completely missed The Smiths.
In the Nineties, working in a record store and grinding through graduate school, I discovered an underrated album by another group I’d overlooked: Dusk, by The The. There was an understated, warmly melodic guitar sound that might easily be overlooked because of the light touch—and yet the music clearly would have fallen apart without it. It was a complex style and an absolutely gorgeous tone that shimmered beneath the surface of the song. “Who is this guy?” I wondered. Eight years after their demise, I had discovered The Smiths' brilliant guitar player, Johnny Marr.
April 16th, 2013, Aladdin Theater, Portland, Oregon
After that, any album with Johnny Marr on it was worth a listen--which has turned out to be a lot: Bryan Ferry, Modest Mouse, Neil Finn, and New Order’s offshoot, Electronic, to name a few others. The first time I saw him perform was with The Healers, supporting his first solo album. I was completely amped, dragging out three friends who had little or no idea what or who I was gushing about but had somehow been convinced that this show was a big deal. It was the first time I ever heard somebody yell, "Johnny Fuckin' Marr!" and he blew us away. What I remember most vividly about that show was every other song he said, “I love this guitar,” as he brought out a new instrument. They were beautiful things, each with its own sound. I was smitten and have been a huge fan ever since.
Fast forward another decade. Johnny Marr had a new album and was out on tour again (after living half of that time in Portland, it turns out) but this time I was out with people who knew what he was all about. Adrenalin Baby pretty much chronicles the show we saw at the Aladdin Theater (most of it--we were treated to much longer performance). I’d forgone the special edition vinyl on this one. For one thing, it cost twice as much as the black copy I bought. And it was pink, which is a color I reserve for rosé and we’ll leave it at that. Straight up: the recording is good, maybe not stellar but the concert was so beautiful, I just don’t care.**
But I also got a screaming deal on this record so I wanted a wine to reflect the bargain. I’m not sure how Safeway ended up with 2010 Maysara Jamsheed, but if it’s in one Safeway, it’s in every Safeway (by state that is), which means a lot of people have access to an aged bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir at a grocery store price. Pale ruby red, reviewers said that it’s more Old World Style. Which if you’ve got a California palate it might be, but a peculiar fusion of Old and New World is Oregon Style to me. One of my favorite vintages, 2010 was a cool (even cold) year that brought about some delicate, lissome wines. Contrast this with the McMinnville AVA which shows distinctly dark, chewy tannic structure that’s as distinct as Napa’s “Rutherford Dust.” With structure like this, it’s a good idea to wait and winemaker Tahmiene Momtazi holds her wines back a little while longer than most producers. Still finding a six year old on the shelf falls in the “miracle” category.
Hand painted original photograph by Jai Soots
2010’s calling card was a briar note on the nose that I liked a lot, and the Jamsheed brought it, along with tomato vines, crushed berries and spices. A cool year tends to yield elegant, graceful wines with leaner texture, and this was right up my alley.
The overall sound of the album is pretty lean, too, which for a live album is no surprise. But JFM's guitar is front and center in the mix, and clear as a bell. That’s what we came for. Every song is great, the band is brilliant, rock solid and razor sharp. That extra little ring that Marr puts into his guitar tone is especially rich on “New Town Velocity,” “Generate! Generate!” and “Candidate.”
I’ve been to lots of concerts where people sang along with the artist, but this one was unique because there seemed to be three groups of singers. The band played a half dozen Smiths songs, and more than half the audience joined in on “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” A different third (including me) knew his recent material from The Messenger and Playland. But the real, bonafide, Johnny Marr fans were on their feet for “Getting Away With It,” the lone song from Electronic. It was my favorite of the night, even though I’d never heard it before. And everybody was on their feet for The Clash’s “I Fought the Law.” Who could ever resist that?
It's amazing how much great music I've discovered thanks to this guy--the only downside being that I wonder who else I’ve missed along the way. Fortunately, there have been plenty of records to help catch me up and so far, the wine supply has held. The struggle continues.
*The original title of this post was Johnny Fuckin' Marr. I was surprised when I had trouble emailing bits back and forth for editing, having them swallowed by spam filters. Still other filters knocked the article right out of regular readers' feeds. And so, now it's Johnny Effen Marr.
**As an aside, I played Adrenaline Baby twice on iPod while stirring lees, which got the job done much faster.