I'm in Portland for a couple days this week--took my bike down on the train, enjoying what I can only describe as the city's epic flatness--and last night my awesome host took me out to see local Smiths cover band This Charming Man. Now, immediately I'm disappointed that it's not called This Charming Band--a cover band without a rudimentary pun in the name is like a Morrissey concert without 200 fat Mexican goths--but I let it slide. Perhaps harder to let slide: a Smiths cover band that plays Morrissey SOLO songs? I don't know if that's entirely orthodox, but I do like to hear "Suedehead," so. Dithering fanboydom aside, I did manage to take one critical deep thought away from last night's performance, and that is that it's easier to impersonate Morrissey than Johnny Marr.
Allow me to explain . . .
Now, I'm not talking looks--on that note, Morrissey's iconic coif and profile are probably harder to ape than Marr's generic rocker mien--and This Charming Man's frontman, who I hear also hosts an excellent radio show Saturday and Sunday evenings on OPB, looks nothing like the guy. In fact, he looks more like he should be fronting a Harvey Danger cover band. But he does Morrissey's pathos-telegraphing warbling croon pretty damn well--like, no complaints well. The guitarists--the band had two to try to keep up with the Smiths' one--had a tougher time of it, though. (And as a couple wags pointed out, they presumably could've just called the lately Cribs/Modest Mouse sideman Marr up from down the road to sit in.)
Both Moz and Marr have deeply distinctive styles, the flashpoint combination of which is what gave the Smiths their one-of-a-kind charm. But (and I'm recalling this from memory of skimming The Severed Alliance back in my college days) Morrissey's singing was the affected solution of an untrained singer, while Marr's inventive yet deceptively simple sounding guitar work was the result of studious training. Which is to say it makes sense that it would be easier to do a karaoke approximation of Morrissey than it would to pick up and play Marr's guitar lines--because Morrissey was doing a karaoke version of Morrissey himself.