The usual unusual crowd have gathered to praise and appraise Moz 2018. The old, the young, the weak, the strong, the grotesque, the lonely, bequiffed and balding (sometimes both at once), hipsters, rockabilly’s and skinheads are here but what is, as ever, most interesting is the pull he has on people barely into, never mind out of, their teens. He is still the master of melancholy…before the lights even dim and a note has been sung.
No support act just a selection of tracks hand picked, one suspects, by the Mozfather and then before he hits the stage, and batters our souls, video footage of the Ramones, sixties girl groups, faux lesbians from Russia, new romantic electro maestros, punk, funk, soul and, of course…the New York Dolls. Has anyone ever been so faithful to a band as Morrissey has been to the Dolls? Perhaps only his own fans.
The lights go down.
The crowd roars.
Stalking the house in a low cut blouse.
The set begins with a nod to another player in the theatre that is the world of Morrissey, Elvis Presley. “Be Gone” finds the man of the moment in excellent voice and classic contrarian mode. No crowd pleasing greatest hit to get the night started from M. “I’m very proud to be here.” he informs us at the songs end and we are proud to welcome him.
“I Wish You Lonely” is the first of several tracks from “Low In High School” to be played and, despite my less than enthusiastic thoughts on that album, they all benefit from the live setting. Here the sound of the crowd belting back every line elevates this song from album filler to live killer.
Morrissey used to be in a fairly successful beat combo called Der Schmidts and he offers a nod to that group with “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” from their album “Strangeways Here We Come”. It’s not a Morrissey gig unless this grizzly man plays around with his own lyrics and so “I grabbed you by the gilded beams…” becomes “I grabbed you by the Heinz baked beans”.
When the first notes of his debut solo single “Suedehead” reach the ears of the gang here gathered it is a near spiritual experience. Why do we come here? Just to hear this.
The video that accompanied “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage” cast Morrissey as some sort of 1970’s white soul boy…the “dance” routine carried out by his band was the funniest moment in his career and, despite what people say, he has had plenty of others. Again the live setting gives this song a power that it didn’t have on record.
If one Morrissey song captures why so many of the people in the crowd are obsessed with him it is “How Soon Is Now?” with its rally call to the lonely “…you go home and you cry and you want to die.” which, without exaggeration, is exactly how I felt after every school dance. Clever old Morrissey.
The last week brought the anniversary of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster and it is only fitting that Morrissey plays his hymn to those sons of Manchester. The accompanying footage of Manchester United teams of old and then the names of the boys who died makes for a powerful and moving tribute.
“When You Open Your Legs” wins the award for most unlikely and yet most obvious title for a Morrissey song. It’s a song that seemed to me to be…slight. It doesn’t gain any more heft live but it does find M in very fine voice.
When I reviewed “Low In High School” I wasn’t overly positive about “Who Will Protect Us From the Police?” but tonight it sounds like the most important song he has written for many years. It’s delivered with Old Testament fervour and the accompanying video footage of police brutality makes for a jaw dropping and anger inducing few minutes.
Never one to shy away from controversy Morrissey then asks us all “Do you actually like Nicola Sturgeon?”, some people have described the response to that question as mixed…the truth is that the boo’s drown out the cheers to such an extent that any SNP supporter in the venue probably tweeted the First Minister to hold off on any IndyRef2 plans!
Naturally this is followed by “World Peace is None of Your Business” where we are all chided for participating in politics because “Each time you vote, you support the process.” and while that seems like an overly simplistic view of the democratic process…I think he might be right!
The glam, glitter, boot boy stomp of “My Love I’d Do Anything For You” which was my favourite moment on LiHS is even better live than on record. It’s a sonic assault. Someone should call the police.
A big favourite from LiHS is “Home is a Question Mark” which, again, I was dismissive on when the album was released but here it is magnificent. Rich, warm, full of longing and yearning. It’s classic Morrissey and I apologise for my failure to acknowledge that!
“I Bury the Living” remains a song that I have problems with because of its lyrics and the suggestion that young men who join the armed forces are simply murderers…it seems to me that the reasons for joining the military are complex and to treat those men with such hostility doesn’t sit well with me. However, there is no denying the fact that it’s a highlight of the set with the band raging and Morrissey roaring.
Fellow animal rights activist Chrissie Hynde is given tribute as “Back on the Chain Gang” is covered. It’s my favourite cover version by Mozzer. It just sounds so right.
“Spent the Day in Bed” was the lead off single from LiHS and it divided opinions…I wasn’t sure when I first heard it but it grew on me. It’s a typical Morrissey single…he enjoys releasing the poppiest of songs even when they are out of step with the current musical climate or he has stronger songs. He’s funny like that!
“The Bullfighter Dies” from “World Peace…” is accompanied by genuinely horrific video footage of bull fights…I feel anger and sadness in equal measure. “Meat is Murder” may have been dropped for this tour but the core Moz message remains…be kind to animals, or I’ll kill YOU.
Not many artists would hit you with two b-sides back to back…but Morrissey isn’t like the other boys in bands and he does exactly that with “If you Don’t Like me, Don’t Look at Me” and his cult classic “Jack the Ripper”. Back in 1995 at the Civic Hall in Motherwell I managed to clamber on stage and embrace Moz just as he sang the line “Crash into my arms…I want you.” Still the best moment of my life.
“Hold on to Your Friends” is taken from, unarguably, his greatest album “Vauxhall and I”. In amongst the boom and the bombast of so much of tonight’s set it’s a sweet and tender moment for hooligans like me to grab hold of.
For all his contrarian instincts he does love his fans and he proves it with a glorious rendition of “Everyday is Like Sunday” which has the entire hall singing every line as if their lives depended on it…maybe it does?
“Speedway” has been a staple of the Morrissey concert for years now and, thankfully, tonight we are given a faithful rendition and not the rather odd take on the song of recent tours where Gustavo Manzur would sing the end in Spanish.
After a quick shirt change the band return to the stage for one last song. It’s the magnificent “Irish Blood, English Heart” from “You Are The Quarry” and it is just wonderful. A reminder of quite how good a musician the now departed (from the band but not this life) Alain Whyte was.
The shirt comes off.
The crowd goes wild.
The lights go up.
I am rooted to the spot.
I had been full of trepidation before this gig, only buying a ticket a few hours before. I hadn’t particularly enjoyed “Low In High School”, I wasn’t sure if I hadn’t fallen out of love with the Mozfather…I even wondered if I had grown up and outgrown him!
One night in his company was enough to drag me back in.
Damn him to Hell and back…and I’ll take every step on the journey with him.