This Morrissey article was written by Oscar Power, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse
Gladioli flying wildly through the air, lyrics being sung along to as though they are sacred religious mantras, wild legions of fan reaching out desperately just to get a fleeting handshake… and all this was just at a gig for a Smiths tribute band I went to at the weekend in Brighton.
With this in mind, when it comes to seeing Morrissey himself live, there is absolutely nothing on earth to prepare the uninitiated. Ever since The Smiths broke up nearly thirty years ago, their lyrics and music have attained near mythical status. Morrissey’s own successful solo career has lasted over 25 years, comprising 10 studio albums, a best-selling autobiography and a very-soon to be released novel. So a beginner to all of this may approach it with something more than just trepidation.
I myself have been a self-confessed obsessive for well over five years now, already seeing him thrice in the past, and even I was somewhat taken aback by this gig. There had been reports that some fans had camped out at the Plymouth Pavilions overnight, and when we arrived several hours before the gig was due to start there was already a healthy queue waiting outside the doors.
Once they had finally flung the doors open, it was a mad scrum to get to the very front, all the better a place to attempt a stage invasion during the encore.
If you haven’t been to see Morrissey live before, you’ll find the evening always begins with a thoroughly bizarre video montage of whatever seems to be floating around on the Pope of Mope’s YouTube history, projected onto a large safety curtain. This time it was an eclectic mix of Tina Turner, the Ramones, Bob & Marcia’s cover of ‘To Be Young Gifted and Black’, the New York Dolls, and disjointed pieces of interview, the faces of James Baldwin and Dame Edith Sitwell looming over us.
From the very start, one thing is very clear: this is Morrissey’s world. We just happen to have been begrudgingly let in.
When the curtain (quite literally) falls at ten to nine and Morrissey and his backing band enter to the strains of Klaus Nomi’s ‘Wayward Sisters’ he immediately launched into ‘Suedehead.’ The crowd goes wild, the noise of them singing and cheering with approval nearly drowning out the sound of the music onstage entirely.
Normally when you catch Morrissey live, he’ll either be in one of two moods; either thoroughly enjoying himself (as much as he can be anyway) and engaging in on-stage banter he knows will gain roars of approval no matter what he says, or else, pushing out the songs at such a speed that by the time you’ve started clapping for the end of one, he’s already started another.
In this case, perhaps it was a little of column A, a little of column B. No sooner had ‘Suedehead’ come to its dreamy end (it was a good lay indeed) than ‘Alma Matters’ started, a choice cut from the much maligned and misunderstood album ‘Maladjusted.’
From then on as the gig started to pick up and the crowd started to get rowdier and rowdier, pushing ever more aggressively to get to the front. The setlist was mainly comprised of cuts from his latest album, 2014’s ‘World Peace Is None of Your Business’, which represents some of his most diverse and interesting work in years. The melodramatic suicide of a student under exam pressure in ‘Staircase at the University.’ The revulsion of animal cruelty in ‘The Bullfighter Dies.’ Getting lost in the mysterious (and deadly) back streets of ‘Istanbul.’ They were all here.
Even my favourite song from the album, the haunting ’Oboe Concerto’ was present.
Needless to say, Morrissey remains in fine vocal form (despite a number of health scares last year) and his new backing band (minus constant stalwarts Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias) are some of the best he’s had in years. Keyboardist (not to mention didgeridoo player) Gustavo Manzur especially impressed when he actually took over on vocals from Morrissey for the second half of the song ‘Speedway’, singing in Spanish whilst Morrissey stood in the background banging a tambourine away.
Other pleasant surprises included both the performance of ‘Everyday is like Sunday’ B-Side ‘Will Never Marry’, which remains a perennial fan favourite, as well as the revelation that Morrissey seemingly approves of Jeremy Corbyn, something revealed between songs:
“He’s vegetarian (cheers) He wants to abolish the monarchy (cheers) and he hates war. (cheers) Obviously he’s going to be assassinated.”
With the encore, a rollicking medley of ‘What She Said/Rubber Ring’, some fans took a final desperate attempt to leap onto the stage (none successful) with those possessing slightly better self-preservation instincts merely stretching out their hands as far beyond the safety barrier as they dare reach, yearning, pleading for Morrissey to shake theirs and take away, as what Will Self calls it, “the scrofula of loneliness.”
I laugh, and I smile, and I cheer. I don’t think anyone but this man can inspire such dedication, such love, such blind and unquestioning devotion, whilst also provoking such ire and anger from others. But this is what it is like when you are let into Morrissey’s world. His heart is full, he will never marry, and he has explosive kegs between his legs. And this is why seeing him live is an experience like any other.