Joe Bloggs hoodies and flares might not have been in evidence in the Italianate surroundings of the Piece Hall on Saturday night, but close your eyes as Johnny Marr joined The Charlatans for a boisterous finale of Sproston Green and you could be forgiven for thinking you were back in Manchester circa 1990.
Earlier in the evening Marr had treated a packed piazza to a glorious 75-minute set that drew heavily on his younger years as guitar-slinger in The Smiths.
To the delight of a largely middle-aged audience clearly hungry for some nostalgia, six of their best-known numbers were sprinkled throughout it, including a zesty version of Panic, with Marr amending the lyric to include Halifax in the list of northern towns and cities on whose streets uncontrollable fright had spread.
Bigmouth Strikes Again and This Charming Man chimed with the spirit of old, while Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want remains one of the most poignant songs in his canon.
As darkness descended, How Soon Is Now, with its juddering guitar line and eminently quotable lyric, inspired a mass sing along, but it was perhaps a magnificent rendition of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out that lingered longest in the mind.
There was some good-natured joshing with the Yorkshire crowd while introducing Hi Hello, one of two highlights from his solo catalogue – along with Easy Money – that could have easily slotted into any Smiths album, an airing of promising new number Somewhere, and a powerful cover of Depeche Mode’s I Feel You.
For good measure, Tim Burgess – hailed by Marr as a “national treasure” – was a surprise guest for the “disco song from Manchester”, Electronic’s Getting Away With It.
Burgess’s set with The Charlatans was similarly full of good-natured 90s Mancunian vibes. Powered along by Tony Rodgers’ Hammond organ and the prominent basslines of Martin Blunt, their set was jam-packed with crowdpleasers from their prime period with record label Beggars Banquet.
From Can’t Get Out of Bed to Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over, Then and North Country Boy, this was a set designed to evoke happy memories.
Cracking versions of Weirdo and The Only One I Know were particularly well received, mop-topped Burgess produced a harmonica for the Dylan-esque Impossible before the band bade a brief farewell with a punchy How High.
A three-song encore of I Don’t Want To See The Sights, Plastic Machinery and Sproston Green – the latter two with Johnny Marr – ended the night in rousing style.
Honourable mention too should be made of Halifax band Wax-Tree-Cast, whose 25-minute support slot impressed many. Fronted by guitarist and songwriter Blair Murray and bassist and singer Oolagh Hodgson, both dressed in eye-catching pink, they combine rock ‘n’ roll instincts with songwriting verve, not least in the peppy Fizzed Up. Soon to be supporting Steve Mason on his autumn tour, they are definitely ones to watch.
All in all, this was a glorious way to round off a glorious summer of concerts at one of the finest music venues in the country.