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The Killers Brought Out Johnny Marr and the Pet Shop Boys at the Glastonbury Festival and It Was Amazing

Johnny Marr performing with The Killers.
Johnny Marr performing with The Killers. Henry Nicholls

The Glastonbury Festival is going on this weekend in Pilton, Somerset in the U.K., and Saturday night’s headliners The Killers used the gig as an opportunity to share a stage with their musical heroes, bringing the Pet Shop Boys and Johnny Marr out during their encore to perform blistering versions of some of their greatest hits. Marr, formerly of The Smiths, had played a set on one of the festival’s other stages—Glastonbury is immense, with eleven “main stages” and countless other venues—and his guitar is as propulsive as ever. Here’s his solo performance of “Bigmouth Strikes Again” from Saturday afternoon:

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There’s something a little bleak about seeing a legend play a festival in daylight hours—you start off in the afternoon slots and eventually you go back there—but Marr got a literal hero’s welcome later that night, when Killers lead singer Brandon Flowers introduced him as “guitar hero Johnny fucking Marr.” (Ronnie Vannucci Jr. provided a drumroll.) Their performance of “This Charming Man” is a thrilling demonstration of exactly how much Smiths songs gain when they’re sung by someone with a pompadour:

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Watching Flowers lean into Morrissey’s theatrics (those yelps!) makes this one of the most interesting performances of a Smiths song since the Smiths. And his glee at getting to sing a Smiths song on a giant stage backed by Johnny Marr himself is infectious. I mean:

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Killers singer Brandon Flowers, on stage at Glastonbury, smiles widely with his arm around Johnny Marr.
BBC
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Marr, who has not gotten to play Smiths songs on a giant stage once or twice before, seemed appropriately blasé, but he was note perfect. “This Charming Man” wasn’t the only trip back into the 1980s: the Killers kicked off their encore by bringing out the Pet Shop Boys to perform their version of “You Were Always on My Mind. Technically, this also counts as a trip back to the 1970s, when the song was originally written:

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The Pet Shop Boys also performed the Killers’ song “Human,” but that video isn’t on YouTube. (If you’re in the U.K. or have a VPN, the BBC has posted full sets here.) But the show’s finale, a performance of “Mr. Brightside” with Johnny Marr on guitar, is thankfully not region-locked:

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We all owe Taylor Swift a debt of gratitude for popularizing the idea of surprise musical guests. Anything that feels like a choreographed passing of a torch can feel tacky—and Flowers comes close to that line with Marr, though that’s probably a function of hairstyling as much as anything—but not every ceremony has to be a coronation. (It’s hard to imagine, for instance, that Taylor Swift was laying claim to Bryan Adams’ musical legacy when she played “Summer of ’69” with him.) The wish-fulfillment on display here is not the standard rock star power fantasy of having an audience hanging on your every note. It’s an adult version of what Flowers or Swift might have dreamed about while bopping along to Adams or the Smiths or the Pet Shop Boys as kids, miles away in Nevada or Utah or Pennsylvania or Tennessee: Learning the same art as your heroes, and learning it so well that you not only get the opportunity to meet them, you’re greeted as a peer. That’s something worth aiming for.

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