He does test you though. Having ditched Kristeen Young (for the second time) as a support act, he’s extended the video that has been playing before his stage entrance for some years. In my recollection, it used to be about 10 minutes long and took place when the house lights were off. Most people thought it was a short intro film and when they realised it wasn’t boredom and fidgeting set in. At least now he keeps the lights up, so everyone realises they’re going to have to sit/stand through 30 minutes of what goes on inside his mind. And quite the eye-opener it is too. Some of it’s pretty normal, unsurprising: The Ramones, the New York Dolls, Ike and Tina, and, in the past, The Small Faces, Jobriath, Eno, Nico, Francoise Hardy, even Tim Buckley. But interspersed between these music clips you get some outright weird shit. From poetry – Anne Sexton reciting Wanting To Die (cheerful) and an interview with Edith Sitwell – to a grainy 70s clip of Charles Aznavour, a brief interview with novelist James Baldwin, and a bit of prog-metal from System of a Down-adjacent band Mt. Helium (highly uncharacteristic of his taste), immediately followed by a movie clip of flamenco dance pioneer José Greco. Then, just when you think it can’t get weirder, on comes 60s comic Rex Jameson, as his cross-dressing alter ego Mrs Shufflewick. And just before the brief final clip, which is always drag performer Lypsinka, we get an indescribably weird song with Leo Sayer-as-a-clown. It’s all very Morrissey. It’s all very odd. Who else could get away with this? The things you’ll endure for love.
There’s something about seeing a second night played at the same venue. Not that I was sure the setlist would differ significantly, as you can never predict this man’s moods. He could just as easily have played the same songs in the same order as he had the night before. But he’s also capable of surprising me, and to my delight he made extensive changes, which he almost never does, letting go of What She Said (and its snippet of Rubber Ring, which would have been landmark to hear), Yes I Am Blind, two new songs, plus I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris, which I’ve always found dull. I’ve got a list going on Facebook of gigs I’ve seen, and perhaps the nerdiest aspect of it is the Moz song list. Eighty-six different songs played at 16 gigs over nine years and four months. So I’m checking the list now to see how many new songs I got to hear… seven! That is remarkable. The total now sits at 93.
He opened with an acapella line “If I made you feel second best, I'm so sorry I was blind” (from Always On My Mind) then launched into You’ll Be Gone, one of only 10 songwriting credits that had the name Elvis Presley listed (I suspect he didn’t do much writing for any of those). Let’s get the new song statistics out of the way first. That Elvis tune, obviously. Super obscure song Let The Right One Slip In, a B-side leftover from the Your Arsenal sessions (more Ronson production genius), check. Boxers, a one-off single to promote a 1995 tour, shoved on a compilation (World Of Morrissey) shortly after, check. My Dearest Love, B-side of All You Need Is Me (great song), check. Alma Matters, a bad pun and the first single from Maladjusted, which I thought I’d heard before, but hadn’t, check. Oboe Concerto, from the new album, let’s face it a rewritten version of Death Of A Disco Dancer, and almost as good, check. And finally, to push our devotion to critical mass, one of his most beautiful and most Moz-like songs ever, Will Never Marry. It’s mostly swelling strings, not much to sing, but every word is meaningful:
I’m writing this to say
In a gentle way, thank you, but no
I will live my life as I will undoubtedly die, alone
I’m writing this to say
In a gentle way, thank you
I will live my life as I
For whether you stay or you stray an inbuilt guilt catches up with you
And as it comes around to your place at 5 a.m., wakes you up
And it laughs in your face
I feel like I’ve been waiting to hear that song since the second I saw the video, in which he receives heartfelt expressions of love and affection from total strangers. If that is the last new song I ever hear him sing, I can live with that. But I don’t fall for all that drama; I think the tickets under-sold (they were very expensive) and he wanted to drum up some attention. And despite his lengthy list of issues with Bowie, I also think it was a little nod to the last Ziggy show. Without getting into too much detail, it’s fairly obvious that his whole ‘no record label wants me’ tantrum is bullshit. He has been offered countless deals and is known to turn them down because they are ‘360’, meaning that, like everyone else in music who is asked to sign a record contract, a slice of touring is part of the package due to the state of record sales. But since Moz lives in 1973 in his head – obsessed with airplay and chart positions, the quicksand last quarter of his autobiography is devoted to such statistics – he does not (perhaps understandably) want to give anyone a cut of the only way he makes money. So he remains unsigned. Then says nobody is interested in signing him. It’s a classic Moz move. Ever poetic, near the end, like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard asking DeMille for her close-up, he tells the crowd, “our UK days conclude, but there is no need for me to say goodbye because we will all be close for the rest of our days” before launching into the last song of the night: a frenzied version of the ever-powerful and subversive The Queen Is Dead.
In the face of endless criticism for loving Morrissey, what is it exactly that makes me go again and again just so I can look at that square jaw and greying quiff? My gig-going companion saw him before we met at the Livid Festival in Brisbane in October 2002, 10 days no less after I saw Bowie at Hammersmith (that took some Googling!). I remember her telling me someone threw a bra onstage, which he picked up, made a disgusted face and threw back into the audience. Of course he did. He also played Meat Is Murder, bathed in red light, and that was it for her, that light-switches-on moment. I didn’t imagine when she took me to see my first show in 2006 that I’d equal the number of times I saw Bowie. She has a theory about him, which we’ve come to call ‘Morrissey is me’. I can’t do it justice but it’s about his flaws being our flaws. His imperfections and oddness and madness and anger and bitterness and vulnerability and aloneness being reflections of ours. He makes many mistakes and they are our mistakes too. And no matter how many people tell you Morrissey is a prick both online and to your face it only strengthens your adoration. Or something like that, I can’t get it right but I will never tire of hearing it. Why only this week, as I wrote this, another torrent of ridicule and humiliation has come his way, due to the release of his first, and surely last, novel List of the Lost. Nobody is taking any pleasure in reporting that it’s an unedited disaster, an unreadable mess that a renowned publisher like Penguin should hang their heads in shame over putting out in such a state. The reviews I’ve read are by wounded Moz fans who just feel let down by him (not for the first time), from Michael Hann at the Guardian to Medium’s Emily Reynolds; they seem to be in some sort of physical pain from having to report that the book is dreck. They took one for the team and read it so we don’t have to; the consensus is that it makes his Autobiography (which was brilliant until it wasn’t) look like Ulysses. But again, this only somehow strengthens everyone’s devotion. So he’s written an awful book, so what? Love can’t be extinguished by his poor judgement – if it could we’d all have abandoned him years ago.
Of course, he can go too far, even for me. I’m already a vegetarian man, because of you, what more do you want of me? He makes me sit through footage of animal slaughter, the backdrop to Meat Is Murder; usually it doesn’t get to me, but this time it really did. I was quite near the front, maybe 15 or 20 feet back, so I got hooked in for the first minute. To illustrate his point, which you know he feels he must make night after night, he has sought out the worst examples of animal cruelty, factory farming. It’s too much for a lot of people; many look away. Cows imprisoned in tiny cages. Chickens having their beaks sliced off. That kind of thing. But of course, the very worst examples of slaughter practices are the creation of halal and kosher meat, so I’m confronted with the unedifying spectacle of Hebrew and Arabic captions stating that a lot of the footage is taken from Middle Eastern slaughterhouses, which makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. This is a language I have a tattoo in (shalom: peace), below my Morrissey tattoo, and it appears on screen as writhing, distressed animals’ throats are slit and blood pours out as their lives drain away. Stunning animals (so, it’s said, they aren’t conscious as they are slaughtered) is accepted worldwide as the only humane part of this animal losing its life so someone can eat a burger but it is banned in kosher/halal processes, for spurious reasons of course, as is true of most religion-based rulings. Too complex to go into the details (Google ‘shechita’ if you’re interested) but of course it makes for a snuff film that this trapped audience must tolerate. Of course, he goes too far sometimes and in interviews has compared the daily animal slaughter to the Holocaust, which despite my passion for animal welfare I find to be way over the line. Nevertheless, when you must stand and listen (even if you look away from much of the footage, as I did) to sound clips of cows mooing, with those brutal lyrics, which he now embellishes to make the audience feel as bad as possible, well, anyone would come away feeling sick. And that’s what he wants.
Earlier in the show, not to neglect humans, during Ganglord the screen shows extreme footage of police brutality, including murders of innocent, mostly African-American, citizens by power-crazed cops. More snuff films. This is who he is. You walk into his house, where you’re held captive and confronted with the worst of humanity, the worst of human behaviours. And yet, in between songs he makes you laugh hard, he gives you every droplet of sweat from his body, he encourages fans to try to make it onto the stage to touch him, he reaches down and touches as many hands as he can. This is the dissonance that makes us go back again and again.
On the musical side, he’s finally added some nuance and subtlety to his band, who’ve been slogging on behind him for a decade or more, with occasional member changes. Mostly this comes in the form of Colombian-American Gustavo Manzur, who plays keyboards, trumpet, accordion, flamenco guitar, and even steps forward to sing the last half of Speedway in Spanish. He’s genuinely added something new, a Latino flavour which fits perfectly, to the proceedings. He joined in 2009 but his impact has grown year on year, with his influence felt in all corners of World Peace Is None Of Your Business. The new Alain Whyte is finally here.
After Meat Is Murder, which only a heartless person would be untouched by, he creates a calm after the storm as we reach the show’s end. It’s like he’s thanking you for sitting through the red light, torture and feedback by playing one of his sweetest, gentlest, most touching songs, Now My Heart Is Full. It’s the perfect five words. It’s how every fibre of my being feels during one of his concerts. That man gave me life in Hammersmith and will do so again today and the next day. He is me, I am him, and we are all together.
The gig ends in chaos of course, like all of his do. The crowd surges forward to catch his discarded shirt, with the fight for it broken up by exhausted security guards and their scissors long after the lights have come up and the venue is nearly empty. They don’t want to let go. That, I understand. Until the next time.
You'll Be Gone / Let The Right One Slip In / Suedehead / Speedway / Ganglord / Boxers / World Peace Is None Of Your Business / Kiss Me A Lot / Staircase At The University / Alma Matters / Will Never Marry / My Dearest Love / The Bullfighter Dies / The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores / Oboe Concerto / Meat Is Murder / Now My Heart Is Full / Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed / I Will See You In Far-Off Places / Everyday Is Like Sunday // The Queen Is Dead
Photo by Burak Cingi (click to see a gallery)
Morrissey must have big balls. Big brass northern balls. I grant you, this is a fairly odd way to start a review. My current slightly loopy demeanour is a result of sleep deprivation. I got home not particularly late after the show but just could not get off the high. I’m finding it increasingly tough to wind down after I get home late, and there’s a sliding scale. If I’m out for dinner I’ll get home early and usually I’m fine. If I’m at a gig and I get home by 11, which is fairly rare, that might be fine too. If I get home from a gig near midnight I might try and stay up for an hour but not go online so it gives me the best chance of dropping off. And then there’s Morrissey. I got home at a reasonable hour, just before midnight, but couldn’t resist spending an hour online, messaging and checking Twitter and watching clips and generally indulging my Moz glow. And it screwed me up for sleeping beyond words. My heart was pounding and wouldn’t slow down. I was humming with vibration. My mind had songs playing in it like a jukebox. Finally, at nearly 5am I passed out. I woke just before 10 and now here I sit, at 10.30, trying to find a way to describe what happened. This shouldn’t be new. I’ve seen Morrissey 14 (I think) times now. I’ve written about him before. And god knows I’ve heard better setlists, at least I think so, but I suppose it depends on your criteria and interest levels in the varying periods of his career. And yet somehow, somehow, somehow I have rarely seen him do a better show and never felt more in love with him than I do at this moment. How did he pull off this magic trick? To play his new album in near-entirety and still have the biggest audience he’s ever attracted in London in the palm of his hand?
I’ve spoken before about how, and this is not to cause offense or make musical comparisons, he has a surrogate Bowie effect on me and my fellow Moz traveller. We never saw Bowie live together and so somehow he has taken on this mythical quality as a performer, someone I speak about in both boastful and grateful tones, recognising how monumentally lucky I was to, as it were, follow him around Europe (and to New York) on the Reality Tour. I’m not comparing him to Morrissey as a performer – they are so very different. But that intangible quality, call it an aura if you like, is something both have a ton of (alright, Bowie has more, for the record). I can be front row, or in the swaying, violent semi-moshpit, or at the side craning my neck, or half way back so he’s nearly a dot, and the same thing will happen every time. You fear he’ll let you down and he doesn’t. And then, when he doesn’t, you think, well of course you wouldn’t let me down, let us down. You would never do that. It’s a complex relationship and it can’t be compared to anything I feel for anyone else now, not even Bowie. I have seen Morrissey deliver songs (never perform; he says: “if you have a true and physical need to sing a song then you are not performing. Performance is forced and artificial, and you are either a singer, or else you are... simply ... a costume”) from every album, band and solo, that he has in his arsenal. But last night he started and then ended with a pair of songs everyone knew, but somehow managed to make everyone embrace the fact that the songs between those four were largely unknown. And we loved him for it. And Twitter, the first place any complainer goes, you best believe it was unanimous in love (I said love L-U-V, as the Dolls go) for him. He played 20 songs (that’s a lot for him, he usually does a few less) and of the 16 in between the opening pairs he started with three from his new record in a row. Then I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris, a thoroughly average song from his last album. Then three more new songs, again in a row – I must confess to thinking that the lyrics are somewhat lacking on both World Peace… in general and on its adolescent title track (it’s the kind of impractical idealistic ‘don’t vote, viva la revolución!’ nonsense you hear from Russell Brand – this is not a compliment). He can do so much better. But just when you think ‘get on with it’ comes the extraordinary obscurity Trouble Loves Me, more of which later. And then, yes, another couple of new songs. At this point I’m amazed that he’s making no concessions to nearly 20,000 people, almost all of whom must be there to hear the hits. It’s nearly Dylan-esque in its contrariness! And what happens next? He goes into the dirge-like raw brutality of Meat Is Murder, a song still so shocking and powerful nearly 30 years after its release that has converted more humans to vegetarianism (myself included) than any other piece of art yet created. He prefaced it with: “I read the other day that 75% of chicken sold in the UK is contaminated, therefore poisonous - and I thought to myself ‘ha ha ha ha!’ (Not entirely true: there is a toxic bacteria in most chicken, true, but it gets destroyed during cooking, so unless you’re eating raw meat… never let the facts get in the way of a good story; as Tony Wilson said: print the legend). He accompanies the song with a video of vivisection, factory farming, caged animal slaughter and torture, which everyone is forced to watch, while bathed in red light, and it makes the entire audience feel sick and disgusted. And we love him for it. It’s a prestige the like of which Houdini would be proud. Also bear in mind that he had commanded the O2 to cease selling any meat products on the night of his show – an unprecedented request to which, incredibly, they agreed. They must have lost money but did it anyway. Incidentally, he’d also previously gotten the Staples Center in LA (where he’s a god, basically, and can sell out arenas with ease mostly due to his rabid Latino fanbase) to do the same. They had already said no to McCartney. These are more useful victories derived from the small amount of power he has than being snooty about the political process, if you ask me.
So then, yes, you guessed it, a trio more of new songs (and oh the irony, my favourite new song, Oboe Concerto, is not played). The main show ends with another wonderfully obscure non-hit, Speedway, the song from which I have taken my lyric tattoo design, and we’re finished. Encore. The end. And people are going absolutely mad. They’re throwing flowers they have brought at the stage. They are throwing themselves at the stage, just trying to touch him. This is normal gig behaviour at his shows and nowhere else in music have I seen it – weeping humans of all shapes and sizes and genders and ages and sexualities simply prostrating their bodies to him to touch and, one imagines, be healed. Each touch of hands provokes a roar. You’re cheering for each human who needs, just needs desperately, to feel his touch because they are you.
The setlist and its 11 new songs are a marvel, a miracle (with I’m Not A Man and Istanbul working particularly well). I’ve heard him perform everything you could imagine, from How Soon Is Now? to This Charming Man. From Death Of A Disco Dancer to Last Of The Famous International Playboys. From There Is A Light That Never Goes Out to Please Please Please (Let Me Get What I Want). From Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me to Panic to Girlfriend In A Coma and so on and so on and so on. This man has 100 songs to spare. He could perform any of his albums in entirety. Until last night I had heard 72 different songs – it’s now 84. And in researching my own Moz history just now I realised I’ve seen him 15, not 14, times (not counting that Roundhouse one where his voice gave out after three songs and the gig was abandoned). I saw Bowie 16 times. He’s getting there. I’ve had to wait two years for this 15th show, mind you. I have to hope he has many more in him. Remarkably, I cannot remember his voice ever sounding this good. He seems to be either dreadfully unlucky or prone to health issues, which he has recently alluded to without properly discussing, and why should he, as his health, like world peace, is none of my business. And yet, he looks great, muscular and determined and ornery as ever. As one might expect, he’s lost none of his tendency to confront, which feels oddly comforting. Without perceived injustice (the charts, record labels, hunting, animal welfare, the Royals, celebrities) who would he even be?
We’d managed to engineer a pretty perfect show day, it must be said. This despite the fact that I’m suffering from a trapped sciatic nerve and can’t stand or walk for more than five minutes at a time. A lovely day in the pub, then a sobering-up dinner and then a spot by the mixing desk. My location on the arena floor was not at all how I planned it. Pre-nerve-injury I was so very up for being front and centre, right in the pit. I was pretty gutted, in all honesty, about having to abandon that plan, having waited two years to see him live again. I held up pretty well in the end, despite having to spend some time crouching on the ground or bent at the waist to stave off the pain. I didn’t care. He was singing to me, he was mine again. My love affair with this Mancunian hero had started eight years ago. I liked him fine before then, I knew what The Smiths meant, but he hadn’t found me as a solo artist. One night – May 1st 2006 – at Alexandra Palace changed all that and since then… god, he gets on my nerves sometimes, with some of the outlandish nonsense he says. But I always forgive him, why? I understand him, through all the madness and militancy and attention seeking and drama.
The show began (following a lengthy set of clips – the Dolls, Nico, drag legend Lypsinka etc.) as an image of a grumpy-looking Queen appeared on the big screen. She was giving the crowd the finger, with both hands. And then, yes, of course he did it: he played The Queen Is Dead, which I had never heard him do before. The lyrics, one of his finest, which I now realise I must put here, are as follows:
Farewell to this land's cheerless marshes
Hemmed in like a boar between arches
Her very Lowness with her head in a sling
I’m truly sorry - but it sounds like a wonderful thing
I said Charles, don't you ever crave
To appear on the front of the Daily Mail
Dressed in your mother’s bridal veil?
And so I checked all the registered historical facts
And I was shocked into shame to discover
How I'm the 18th pale descendant
Of some old queen or other
Oh has the world changed, or have I changed?
Oh has the world changed, or have I changed?
Some 9-year-old tough who peddles drugs
I swear to God, I swear: I never even knew what drugs were
So, I broke into the palace
With a sponge and a rusty spanner
She said: “Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing”
I said: "That’s nothing - you should hear me play piano"
We can go for a walk where it’s quiet and dry
And talk about precious things
But when you're tied to your mother's apron
No-one talks about castration
We can go for a walk where it’s quiet and dry
And talk about precious things
Like love and law and poverty
Oh, oh, these are the things that kill me
We can go for a walk where it’s quiet and dry
And talk about precious things
But the rain that flattens my hair...
Oh, these are the things that kill me
All their lies about make-up and long hair are still there…
Past the pub who saps your body
And the church who’ll snatch your money
The Queen is dead, boys
And it’s so lonely on a limb
Past the pub that wrecks your body
And the church - all it wants is your money
The Queen is dead, boys
And it’s so lonely on a limb
Life is very long, when you're lonely
People have been sent to the Tower, frankly, for less. The crowd roared every word and we jumped and danced and punched the air and the entire O2, filled to the brim, realised we were in the presence of perhaps the greatest living Englishman, certainly the greatest one currently touring! A sweet nostalgia blast, next up, was Suedehead, his first solo single, which was surely the moment post-Smiths breakup where everyone had gone, aha, he doesn’t need Johnny to write great songs. Of course, there are many arguments to be made about the relative quality, similarity and lack of adventurousness in some of his solo output. However, he’s a pop artist and he makes pop songs because that’s the music that mattered to him when he was growing up. The (older) lyrics may be sophisticated but the music is not – and who cares? He’s not avant-garde and nor does he care for it. He likes crooners and pop music and his subversion lies in the words and persona. It is telling that this morning’s reviews make reference to his attacks on the Royal family, the meat industry, the government and his own record label. The Telegraph even makes hay out of his recent health issues, which he hasn’t discussed at all coherently. Talking of Asleep, they went full on: “Dimly lit, face obscured, it felt like he was delivering his own eulogy, made even more poignant by his health problems.” Please. Really? As if any of this were newsworthy somehow – unusual proclamations and events are just par for the course at one of his shows. Rarely do artists say or do anything beyond what is expected of them at a performance, and certainly even fewer challenge their own crowd between songs to think about animal welfare (we sing happily: “Hooray, hooray, the bullfighter dies, and nobody cries”) or the nature of how record labels shaft artists or the love of hunting demonstrated constantly by a bunch of toffs we all pay for. That’s just him. He has said he is only controversial because it’s so easy to be controversial in pop music: nobody ever is. Most of the reviews I’ve read have called the show ‘emotional’ – to which I reply, when is he not? Seeing Morrissey live is always a moving experience, otherwise we wouldn’t do it.
So after Suedehead off we went for an hour of 11 new songs and an animal torture video. But in the middle of it all, as my pain kicked in and I started to flag, out came Trouble Loves Me. From 1997’s fairly forgotten Maladjusted, this one is an epic Bond theme of a record. I’d heard it live once before, the first time I saw him, and I didn’t know it then. But I can pinpoint it as the song that made me fall for him, this Hulmerist, flaws and all. And so we sang and swayed arm in arm and it was overwhelming. So, right now, I am exhausted and starting to feel emotional about the night. I must wrap up. I cannot imagine what life would be like if I didn’t get to be in a room with that man every so often. He has come to mean so much to me. In between the times when I get to see him live I’m challenged by much of what he says – his own sometimes-muddled naïve invective, the abuse for loving him that I receive from acquaintance and stranger alike… I sometimes forget why I like him at all. But seeing him live reminds me, so perfectly, why he’s worth every second of my time. It fills you up, somehow, until the next show. It always feels like a re-acquaintance – never a goodbye.
The two-song encore began with a fairly obscure Smiths B-side, Asleep. It reminded me of an old bedtime rhyme my great-grandma, Rose, used to sing to me when I was little: “show me the way to go home, I’m tired and I want to go to bed…” Maybe his gran sang it to him a few miles (and a couple of decades) away from where my great-gran sang it to me… he stole the second line straight out:
Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
I'm tired and I
I want to go to bed
Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
And then leave me alone
Don't try to wake me in the morning
'Cause I will be gone
Don't feel bad for me
I want you to know
Deep in the cell of my heart
I will feel so glad to go
Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
I don't want to wake up
On my own anymore
You could feel the emotion coursing through the venue. You could hear a pin drop. He won over every person there, with a couple of old songs and a ton of new ones. His first words to the crowd were “I am privileged beyond my wildest dreams.” His last, delivered with a dramatic flourish, as ever, were “Remember me. Forget my fate” (a quote from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas). And then, the last song was with us, the ubiquitous Everyday Is Like Sunday, greeted like an old friend. The lights came up and Klaus Nomi’s aria Death (from Dido’s Lament, also, of course, from Dido and Aeneas) ushered us out into the cold night. People sang his songs as we made our way to the Tube, joined forever by this unique human being.
The Queen Is Dead / Suedehead / Staircase At The University / World Peace Is None Of Your Business / Kiss Me A Lot / I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris / Istanbul / Smiler With Knife / The Bullfighter Dies / Trouble Loves Me / Earth Is The Loneliest Planet / Neal Cassady Drops Dead / Meat Is Murder / Scandinavia / Kick The Bride Down The Aisle / I'm Not A Man / Speedway // Asleep / Everyday Is Like Sunday
Sometimes an album calls to you, demanding you buy it. You just know somehow it will have something life changing about it. I haven’t felt this way about an album since Heathen. And Ringleader of the Tormentors hasn’t been out of my CD player for the last two weeks - somewhat helpfully since half of last nights 18 song set list was culled from the album. The studio arrangements lend themselves to live performance and this current band, with older members and new, lends itself perfectly. I wouldn’t have cared if he’d walked on and performed the new record in entirety and not a Smiths tune. Not that I don’t love The Smiths but I’m not one of those people who harps on about old classic records or shouts out song titles or gets disappointed if certain songs aren’t played.
Somewhat surreally, Kristeen Young kicked off the evening’s entertainment. We had found a great spot on the barrier on the left with a superb view the venue was still light inside due to the glass roof and it wasn’t even half full when she came on at 7.15. The sound was superb and you could hear every word. It suddenly dawned on me that I had probably never heard KY get to use either a proper drum kit or a top of the line sound system. Her voice soared through the venue and after a few songs the modest applause grew. I’ve never been sure of those songs where her voice has a slight Yoko tinge to it, its probably not the best way to introduce yourself to several thousand potential new fans. Being behind a keyboard allows a certain amount of hiding and covers up some nervousness I thought KY was really at her best when she came out from behind the keyboard and took it to the crowd a little more. It was a strange feeling knowing the person on stage, wanting her to do well and wishing everyone would be responsive and overall I thought it went very well.
Second support act, Scottish band Sons and Daughters had a couple of interesting moments but were on the whole rather dull. If I never heard a band that sound like Joy Division again it would be too soon.
In between the bands this classical music had been playing. At first the novelty was interesting but then the Chopin started to grate. The oddest choice of warm up music since I went to see James Brown and he used his own records but at least that got the crowd going. I assume the Stretford lad wanted to create a rarefied atmosphere given the sedate Italian themes everywhere from the drum riser to the crew passes. Before he came on a different tape started with some strange old show tunes, including a folky song, a famous song in Australia, about a pub with no beer.
The lights vanished, the crowd roared and the intro tape started. At this point of the review I realised I had to take a look at the set list. I dropped by a site, Morrissey Solo, and was overcome by the whinging and bitching. They make this site look like amateurs. I guess that the bar has been raised so high by Morrissey in the past that anything below perfection is something to complain about. They never stop complaints about the sound (which was flawless), lack of screens (fair point), set list (perfect, for me anyway) and huge resentment of newer fans.
Having peeked at several set lists I pretty much knew what was coming he’s playing almost every night so the sets are under 20 songs, just under 90 mins. I was ready for that. First of the Gang to Die, Still Ill and You Have Killed Me kicked off the show the latter with a nice and cheeky Tony Visconti is me lyric.
We were already out of breath; he was prowling the stage, snapping his mic lead like a circus ringmaster trying to control lions. All the moves were there. I was starting to reach a higher state, how could I have not seen him live all these years? The shows I’ve been missing…
The set was very Ringleader heavy which suited me just fine. New single The Youngest was the Most Loved and an even newer B-side called Ganglord were up next the new songs were very well received on the whole I thought. He stalked from side to side of the stage and must have noticed who knew the words to the new stuff since he came over and sang rather directly at us, in that way Bowie does, making you feel like he’s singing to you. More new songs, a six song burst of them To Me You Are a Work of Art (at this point a security guard came over and asked what song it was and then offered to give us his setlist after the show.), then At Last I am Born and On The Streets I Ran. I love these songs on the album but live they take on another personality. He slipped in the sweet Let Me Kiss You from Quarry in between more Ringleaders - these songs are huge, the band make it sound like they’re each playing two instruments and in the case of Far Off Places they take on an almost Zeppelin-esque power.
After Still Ill, from the first Smiths album, I wasn’t sure if there’d be any other Smiths tunes though I did have my suspicions after keeping my eye on the last few setlists. Even though I wouldn’t have been disappointed one jot to not hear a single Smiths song it was really quite lovely to hear Girlfriend in a Coma next. But then came the show highlight.
I knew it would be this way. I knew that Life is a Pigsty would blow me off my feet. It’s my current favourite track off Ringleader. The version of it last night was indescribable. I don’t mean to be flippant but it was like one of those higher moments, a rapture akin to hearing Station to Station live. With timpani and Boz on water filled glasses and Morrissey’s perfect voice every word wrapped around me as every smash of the cymbals lifted me off the ground. Music so rarely provides those divine moments that when it comes along you know it, you can feel it. After that I needed a break and it came in the form of one of the only songs I wasn’t familiar with, Trouble Loves Me from Maladjusted. It was sung with such passion and heart, lovely song. A couple more cracking new tracks followed, again taking on vibrant new life when played live. And then the opening chord from How Soon is Now? Rang out. He has been playing this but Id forgotten about it. I never thought I would hear that song live. There’s a hell of a lot of Smiths songs out there, dozens of classics but this one was a good choice. A communal experience, the crowd lifted the song higher. Leah and I were of course beside ourselves at this point. And then off his shirt came and it was thrown to the crowd and then it was over. Exhausted and breathless we just looked at each other, the gig had flown by in what seemed like minutes. He ran back on to do Irish Blood, English Heart and then he was gone. I’ve seen some charismatic performers in my time, ones who hold the attention of everyone in the room but Morrissey is on another level. Still buzzing we gratefully took the abbreviated set list from the kind bouncer and strolled, with big grins on our faces, out of the venue. Alexandra Palace is high up on a hill, you can see much of London from the grassy verges next to the buildings. We sat and had a joint, peacefully, happily, with smiles on our faces and our ears ringing. It was a perfect night ending just like wed planned. Before we went to get the bus we were sitting on the grass, it was quiet all around. A woman appeared from nowhere she came from behind us and leapt joyfully around the hill with her arms raised in joy, screaming about her love for Morrissey. She got to the bottom and turned around and we raised our arms too, our cheers were taken away on the breeze. We exchanged happy grins, there it was, the effect that he has on people. I’ve had my epiphany. I wonder how much Palladium tickets are on Ebay.
First Of The Gang To Die
You Have Killed Me
The Youngest Was The Most Loved
To Me You Are A Work Of Art
At Last I Am Born
On The Streets I Ran
Let Me Kiss You
I Will See You In Far Off Places
Girlfriend In A Coma
Life Is A Pigsty
Trouble Loves Me (Intro: Maybe Its Because I’m A Londoner)
In The Future When Alls Well
I Just Want To See The Boy Happy
How Soon Is Now?
Encore: Irish Blood, English Heart
Of course it was my own fault, choosing to queue for a couple of hours so I could be front and centre. I ended up in the worst spot, for being crushed, in the venue: one person back from the barrier. Being on the barrier is alright, you get pushed but nothing is pushing back and you have something to grab onto. One person back is the most precarious place to be. I had travelled from London, all afternoon, up to posh Cheltenham. I went so far west I almost ended up in Wales.
Those already queuing were friendly and welcoming, which for some reason I was surprised about. People swore they'd heard him soundcheck Panic. Once we got in we all realised this venue was in effect a ballroom! Tiny. I ended up behind two really nice Americans who had travelled over for a series of gigs.
Kristeen Young was magnificent: her soaring voice filled the hall and bounced off the walls. The audience response was great, she must be growing on everyone.
The lights dimmed, the mirror ball spun, the music started, the roar lifted the roof. And there he was, looking slimmer than I remembered from Ally Pally the other week. Shirt tied in the centre, he took his bow with the boys. Setlist has been pretty much the same in all the gigs - but hearing Anybody's Hero for the first time was lovely. Still Ill always a highlight but really the revelation has been how well the Ringleader material hangs together. He performed most tracks off the album and they were greeted with the same reverance as older songs. He seemed really pleased about that. In fact being at the front means you get to see so much more, the little smiles and winks and cheeky faces being pulled. How playful he is with everyone, spending lots of time reaching out to the front rows.
Of course at a gig there's always one dickhead (a guy shouting 'Billy Bremner' over and over who provided a running commentary of the songs he didn't like as much). Do these guys come with the venue or what? He hadn't queued and appeared from nowhere, pushing in front of some sweet girls in their late teens. The kind of person who has a great time at the expense of everyone else. It's disappointing that Moz attracts such boorish oafs but that guy will get his in the end.
About the shirt thing. I never thought I'd say this but I wish he'd stop throwing shirts into the crowd. I appreciate the theatre of it, very much. But it's getting quite dangerous. Most fans purposely avoid the shirt being thrown. Once it came over a dozen big blokes reached for it, all got a piece and would not let go. This went on for several songs. Tell me... why would someone rather fight over a shirt than watch the man on stage sing? Clearly Moz could see what was going on and someone shouted out for him to throw his, new and clean, shirt in. Loads of us shouted to not throw anything else! Of course he replied, 'Take my shirt off? That's a little forward of you! I don't think I can, I'm not wearing anything under here!' Cue screams. It seemed to diffuse the situation but then a proper fight broke out between two guys holding the shirt and Arturo got up there and shouted at people to pack it in. Is it worth it? I mean really, for a piece of cloth. Pathetic.
Being so close to him was just wonderful. I never thought I'd get that close. It was a proper mosh pit in there I must say. Several people decided to get over the barrier to touch him during Irish Blood at the end. Of course, like everyone else at the front, I ended up getting kicked in the head a few times. Totally worth it!
Moz seems to enjoy the violence almost, which isn't surprising if you think about it. That edge everyone's on creates such an incredible atmosphere. He was in a great mood and the band played hard and loud; Pigsty as ever was the highlight. Dear God remains the only song not played from Ringleader, too saucy to play? ;)
The atmosphere at a Morrissey gig is highly unusual. Working class pint-in-hand lads with open-necked shirts stand beside delicate teenagers, couples who grew up on the Smiths stand beside bull-necked, tattooed heterosexual men with tears in their eyes desperate to touch the hem of his garment. I had a little trouble getting into the venue because of my refusal to bring my passport as photo ID - I had told the Roundhouse box office this on the phone last week and offered to bring my Glastonbury ticket from last year, since it has a photo on it, and was told that would be fine. I waited patiently in the long queue at the box office as arguments raged in front of me - many had not brought any form of photo ID at all, as stipulated on the confirmation email, and were getting increasingly irate at the jobsworth attitude of the Roundhouse worker in charge.
I got to the front, showed her my 'ID'. "Sorry, can't let you in with that". With some restraint, I said I had brought the email and purchasing card and clearly, that was a photo of me. I wasn't willing to bring my passport, given that I'm travelling to America in 3 weeks. 'Not my problem'. I took a breath, 'Clearly, you've had a shitty day and I appreciate that, you've been stitched up by Seetickets and SJM [the promoter] but I'm not a tout, I paid for my ticket, I've brought photo ID, such as it is, here's my card, it's on your system, let's have a bit of common sense here'. She took the card, looked at it and let me in, after having to put my fancy purple wristband on twice because it was too tight the first time, which she did with unconcealed irritation. 'If it comes off we won't replace it'. I thanked her and moved away. That was a touch harder than I had anticipated. I milled around, making friends - I approached a cute young woman with a tattoo of his name on her forearm. She was there with her husband and had travelled from Birmingham. We regaled each other with warmly told tales. 'I'm seeing all the dates on this mini-tour', 'This is my 40th gig!'. 'I saw him in America last year', 'I haven't seen him live since I had his lyrics tattooed on me'. Yes, one of those quotes is me ;-p
So we chatted and laughed and I remembered that, sometimes, Moz fans can be excitable and charming, rather than misanthropic and dour. The venue has an outdoor terraced balcony, a stroke of genius. I went out there for a smoke and got talking to a Dutch journalist, who was in London interviewing Mary J Blige and just got a ticket that day, about Holland and music and all this while overlooking the always busy Camden roads. He had interviewed Moz too, years before, and said he was charming but shy. He told him his music had changed his life and he replied, half sheepishly, half in false modesty, that he was embarrassed by that.
As the time passed I knew I had several days of this to go so I was surprisingly relaxed. I strolled past Keane's Tom Chaplin, who is surprisingly tall. It's ironic that his music is so dull when his taste is so good - he's on the Rufus Wainwright documentary DVD I have too. At 9pm I heard the intro music and entered the hall - as on the last dates I'd seen him play, the intro film was the same. A collection of clips - Bardot, James Dean, David Johansen and Vince Taylor. The curtain dropped to reveal three identical portraits of Richard Burton as the backdrop. On the band walked, then the man himself, to roars. How Soon Is now is not a bad show opener, not bad at all.
I positioned myself on an inch high metal step in front of the mixing desk, standing just behind film critic, 50s aficionado and all round hero Mark Kermode. His quiff attracts the eye when he's on TV. At this gig he fitted in just perfectly. I'd thought I would take it easy, tap my foot, sing along a little but the occasion overcame me and I was jumping around a bit, singing at the top of my lungs. He had played two French warm-up shows in the last few days and I had studiously avoided the setlist. The first show, incidentally, was in remote picturesque town Clermont Ferrand. An odd place to have a gig, one might say. But as soon as I saw the date announced I knew why - Clermont Ferrand is twinned with Salford. It's something I remembered from signs back home saying 'Welcome to Salford - twinned with...'. I'm quite sure Clermont Ferrand is a much prettier locale than Salford! All my intentions of taking it easy on night 1 went out of the window. I should also mention that very rarely at a show have I been reduced to tears but it happened last night as he played Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself, a real beauty of a song from his best solo record, Vauxhall and I. Having never heard any Vauxhall tracks live before I couldn't possibly have been happier to hear that and Billy Budd.
New songs were aired, the best of which is All You Need is Me, and the crowd were whipped into a frenzy by my highlight, the swirling and discordant Smiths song Death of A Disco Dancer. As you'd expect, there was some heckling which I couldn't properly hear. 'Say what you want, I can take it!', he winked. His voice was flawless so I was surprised when he said he had a frog in his throat, 'and I don't mean a small French person'. A man next to me chuckled, 'Ooh, actual racism'. It was a pleasure to hear a cathartic and audacious rendition of National Front Disco - it was quite something to hear 2000 people, from all over the world, sing 'England for the English' with big grins on their faces.
I'd seen him live 6 times before - last night was a delight and to put it in perspective, he played 20 songs and I had only heard 7 of them played live before. It was surprise after surprise and even if tonight's show is exactly the same I'll be glad to hear these new (to me) songs again. In particular, a cheeky, singalong version of one of my favourite songs, The World is Full of Crashing Bores, had me grinning like a fool. I'm doing it all again tonight and tomorrow. Then with Leah on Friday and Saturday - the last show is Sunday. I don't know what condition I'll be in but I guarantee I will hammer it until I drop.
The setlist was all mixed up and, given that I was fully prepared to get exactly the same songs as Monday, I was delighted to get three songs I'd never heard live before. Everything about the gig was better than Monday - the band were even tighter, the sound was better, he was clearly in a good mood and the crowd were a great deal louder and more excited than Monday's audience.
He was much more chatty than the first night, telling us Hillary Clinton is changing her name to Billary since no-one is sure who they're voting for anyway, her or her husband! He reiterated his support for Barack Obama, something he'd been saying every night on stage in the US last year. We had a thanks to XFM and Radio 2 for playing his new single - why he's still obsessed, after all these years, with airplay is anyone's guess. The crowd on the whole is mixed but knowledgeable. He's contrary so people coming to hear This Charming Man and Heaven Knows and other 'hits' are going to find themselves disappointed. But with those who love the Smiths, those who scrambled to get a ticket for these shows, they don't want or expect famous songs, they holler their approval at obscure album tracks like Death of a Disco Dancer. With the recent Mark Ronson cover still fresh in the memory he reminded us what a brilliant song Stop Me... is when *he* plays it.
Those present are more likely to nod in appreciation at a Vauxhall and I album track than Hand in Glove - as the reactions to Billy Budd and Your Arsenal's Tomorrow proved. Even for me, who owns his entire back catalogue, there are songs known less than others. In particular the gorgeous Stretch Out and Wait (from compilations Louder than Bombs and The World Won't Listen) is becoming a real discovery of these shows since I never knew it that well before. He keeps pulling these gems out from nowhere, like The Loop, available only on little known compilation the World of Morrissey - played with an upright bass it's as rockabilly Moz as he's ever gotten, reminiscent of songs like Sing Your Life.
The setlist is a treat, all told. A nicely balanced mixture of new songs, obscure solo songs plus the odd big tune (HSIN) and rare Smiths tracks. The biggest reactions of the night actually came not for Smiths songs but the pair from You Are The Quarry. Irish Blood, English Heart in particular, despite being only three years old, has been taken to heart by fans, it's overtly political lyrics are sung with conviction, a little anger and passion which makes it the most powerful song he currently performs. Much like going to a football match, seeing Morrissey live is a primal scream of an evening. A chance to bond together with others of a like mind - this may be true of any gig but having been to my fair share of concerts in the last 20 years I can say the frenzy, the passion is most concentrated at Morrissey shows, of all the gigs I've attended. Again, like a football match, it has something of the tribal gathering about it.
My abiding memory of last night is the huge roar as he changed the lyric in Stretch Out and Wait from 'it's the eskimo blood in my veins' to 'it's the Manchester blood in my veins'. Stupid as this sounds, he makes me feel closer to home a little. A Manc who, like me, hasn't lived there for many years - yet it's something that runs deeper than most things in my blood too.
One more show tonight then a night off tomorrow. In the 8 Morrissey gigs I've attended so far I have heard almost 50 songs. I could name another 20, at least, that I'd like to hear. Some bands don't even have ten good songs. This is quite the journey, I'm loving every second of it.
Half an hour before I had been sitting in my aunt's house laughing and chatting, I had a little time before the gig started and decided to have dinner with the family before I left. I related tales of my two gigs so far. They think I'm mad. It's a quite lovely 10-15 minute walk from the house to Chalk Farm and I arrived with minutes to spare, found a spot beside the mixing desk again and off we went. It was starting to resemble Groundhog Day in some ways. Would it be Playboys or HSIN to start? Neither. A new song and a quote not from Mother Teresa. Probably.
I wondered if I would get yet another song I'd never heard before live and as if by magic the awesome Jack the Ripper was played. Then, somewhat bizarrely, the Kristeen Young vocal part, at the start of That's How People Grow Up, was played in sample form. Yes, I'm quite sure about that. But as he started to sing, his voice went. Hoarse and cracking I feared the worst, an early end to the evening. "Want to bet my voice is gone by song six?" But he's made of sterner stuff than that and came back to Camden with the best version of Stop Me... I've yet heard. Two days without singing at this point is probably a good idea but, with great relief palpable from all present, his voice stayed strong the rest of the night with only one slightly croaky vocal near the end.
I saw a review the other day remarking on how he has been working with guitarist and bandleader Boz Boorer for four times as long as he worked with Marr. We laud his old band but in years to come may well realise that *this* band is the best he's ever had. A world away from the precise but sparse indie pop four piece he used to front, this is loud, powerful and heavy and this set of musicians could not be better - Boz, drummer Matt Walker, keyboard/guitar/accordion player Chris Pooley, magnificent lead guitarist Jesse Tobias and new bassist Solomon Walker, brother of Matt, who, to be fair, is a hot skinhead but only a limited musician, in no way an equal replacement for Gary Day. The sound these men create whips around the venue, creating a cacophony of noise like I've never heard, and there's no song they play that doesn't sound better live than it ever has before.
'This song is dedicated', he announced solemnly, 'with love, to Heath Ledger'. Life Is A Pigsty. Shortly after, for the first time at these dates, he delivered a beautiful Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want and the audience let out a collective sigh. In one sense, you know what you get with Moz. He sings, 'Don't rake up my mistakes, I know exactly what they are' and while you accept the contrary, curmudgeonly side of him you also feel great love coming at you from the stage, as this is a man who appreciates his audience like no other artist I've seen. During a small break for a technical problem a young man appeared on stage, having made it past security. This happens often at his gigs - some launch themselves at him to plant a big kiss, some kneel before him, some, once they make it up there, don't quite know what to do and their moment of indecision is all security needs to haul them off. This young man held his hand out, which was met, and kissed the hand of the Stretford Bard. A grown man, almost cowed to his knees by this nearly 50 year old singer. He means more to people than anyone outside of this could understand. The hovering danger of his voice packing up again made this the best show of the three so far. There was a lull in the middle when I lost concentration and became distracted during a new song but he got me back again in no time.
I'm tired. Yes, finally. It's much more to do with trouble sleeping than it is the gigs but I feel somewhat dazed this morning. Three gigs in three days. If I'd been getting enough sleep I'd be able to do another tonight but as it stands, I'm quite relieved I have a night off - and I'm relieved his voice gets one too, since we're only half way there. Three gigs played, 25 songs heard. It barely scratches the surface of his back catalogue. Now it's time for a rest and then a sprint to the finish line. I've seen him from the back of the venue and now the barrier calls me to the front.
(LT note: never got to the front – the very next show, his voice went and, despite attempts at comedy from Brand, Ross and Walliams, the crowd was sent home with only 3 songs played. The remaining shows were cancelled. Six gigs in seven days was a bad idea, I could have told him that!)...
Immediately, I could see why he favours town hall sized venues, as it soon became clear that the intensity and intimacy are unmatched. There was no shortage of odd characters to talk to and time passed quickly. Support act Doll & The Kicks were surprisingly good, received well by the famously uncharitable Morrissey hardcore. Then, a selection of strange little vignettes were projected onto the stage curtain - the comical video for Sparks latest single, Lighten Up Morrissey, a trashy, vintage, New York Dolls performance, a camp, leather-clad, Vince Taylor clip and a touch of 60s Shirley Bassey. Then, the curtain fell, the muscular sailor backdrop was visible and You'll Never Walk Alone dramatically heralded the entrance of the man and his band as the crush started. Pinned to the people surrounding me there was no way at all to move as the crowd surged, albeit good-naturedly.
“Good evening Cambridge, this is your starter for ten - no conferring”. A searing opening blast of This Charming Man and Irish Blood, English Heart and a gasp for breath later, came the first raised eyebrow. "I have some disturbing news for you. You're all missing the Eurovision Song Contest. Dry those eyes." I sighed with relief as his fragile voice found itself and stayed strong and powerful for the rest of the night. Newer songs from his latest, Years of Refusal, prompted a little easing of the crush, with the punchy Black Cloud coming out particularly well, but with a setlist this varied there was little let up. From the gentle Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself to, my surprise hit of the night, obscure B-side The Loop. I was surprised the song choice was so Smiths heavy, with no less than six songs from that period. As you might imagine those songs, among them Ask and How Soon Is Now, were received with joy unconfined.
Most bands you see get up there, play the songs and, while you might enjoy it, you suspect it's not that different to any other show. With Morrissey you're confronted with dozens of unique incidents. One such was an abusive heckler, questioned until he squirmed, and then the show was stopped as bandleader Boz Boorer got in his face, throwing a few unrepeatable words in his direction. Apparently the heckler was later removed from the venue. The atmosphere was frenzied and the game of getting on stage began. I've never experienced this at other gigs as the fans with an eye on security and a foot on the barrier try to invade to hug or kiss the man himself. Given that this behaviour is encouraged it’s no surprise that one brave soul made it up there to wrap his arms around Morrissey's ample waist. Another staple of the show is the removal of a sweaty shirt, which is then thrown to the baying masses. Viewing him as a younger man, one might not have imagined that, nearing 50, he would rip his shirt off, stripper style, to reveal a positively beefy physique.
I didn't want the show to end and after the last song, First of the Gang To Die, I peeled myself off those around me and, aching all over, stumbled out of the venue, floating and glowing. That's the paradox of Morrissey. He might let you down... but he'll never let you down.
This Charming Man / Irish Blood, English Heart / Black Cloud / Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed / How Soon Is Now? / I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris / How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel? / Ask / Something Is Squeezing My Skull / When Last I Spoke To Carol / Girlfriend In A Coma / Best Friend On The Payroll / Let Me Kiss You / Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself? / One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell / I Keep Mine Hidden / Sorry Doesn't Help / Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others / The Loop / I'm OK By Myself // First Of The Gang To Die
Morrissey fans are a sour bunch. It seems to me that some of them buy tickets simply to line up and have a go. They love and hate him before they even turn up, love him during the gig then hate him again straight afterwards, if they don't get exactly quite what they want. The man himself gets up there, sweats and exhausts his sometimes-fragile voice, and all he receives back, from some, is a moan. Many are like me, there to have a good time and appreciate one of the best pop back catalogues of the last 30 years. Sometimes I think that the love of his audience is the only kind he's able to process. The worst kinds of fans are what I call the 'setlist moaners'. I have never been this kind of person, one that will attend a gig and come out disappointed that my favourite songs were not played. I might say this is descended from my first Bowie show, where he played a greatest hits setlist. From that point onwards I never had to wish I were hearing a particular song from him since I had heard the 'famous' ones. And that seems to have informed my gig-going habits ever since. I can be disappointed with many aspects of shows I see but not the set list. yet, this seems to be the main, often ruinous issue with the hardcore fans, i.e. those attending more than a few shows. Are they suggesting he changes the set list to accommodate those who obsessively attend multiple shows? Admittedly, on paper the setlist is not strong. Not nearly as good as the one I was seeing at the Roundhouse 18 months ago, which contained Death of a Disco Dancer, International Playboys and more. But who cares really? 25 years of recorded music, 4 Smiths albums and a couple of compilations, 10 solo albums and countless gigs. He knows what he is doing, live. If you don't have a great time it's your own fault.
So, that mini-rant at my fellow fans over, onto the show. The Troxy is one of the more bizarre venues I've been to. A 1920s Art Deco ballroom, carpeted, with many different sections separated by curled stairways and barriers, it felt like being in a venue you didn't want to drop a cup in. There was even a polite row of seats at the back of the tiny main floor. Clumsy as I am, dark as it was, I didn't see this and managed to go flying over someone's outstretched legs before the show even began. I knew I'd done myself some damage but, unwilling to sit it out at the back, I steeled myself and joined the throng. I had been describing the centre of the crowd as a moshpit to friends. This is the wrong word but there doesn't exist a word for what it's like. At the front it was so squashed one could lift legs and remain unmoved. A little further back it's more a mass of swirling, jumping, pushing, frenzied bodies.
This Charming Man had been a song that The Smiths dropped from their shows early on and he had never played it as a solo artist before this tour. As a gig opener it's hard to think of a better choice. I was pleased to then get Boy Happy, from 2005's brilliant Ringleader of the Tormentors, an album he'd been ignoring until recently. Later on, Life is a Pigsty, with its crackling thunder and lightning sound effects, received a rapturous reception, while also allowing everyone a breather. The first couple of songs were a warm up compared to what came next, as everyone bounced together, then something happened -- Irish Blood. It all kicked off. I found myself happily swept up with the crowd, as ever mostly made up of burly men. It's important to stay sharp during these sweeping movements or you can lose your footing. I ended up a good 15 yards to the right of where I started and it wasn't the last time in the evening my position would change. By the end I was almost at the front.
He couldn't resist a little dig at a favoured target. "I was walking through Piccadilly today, and I saw Michael Jackson T shirts saying the King of Pop. This name of this song is The World is Full of Crashing Bores." A smirk and an eyebrow raise, a ripple of laughter spread through the venue. His crowd knows him. And those there to hear Smiths songs, of which there were no less than six, were as delighted as those of us who are more fans of his solo material. After all the moaning, the set list, I feel, has good balance until the later stages. There are four tracks from You Are The Quarry, his so called comeback record, but the six choices from Years of Refusal should be spread better. With half of these Refusal tracks at the end of the show there's no doubt the flow and energy levels do suffer. But these are minor quibbles. You very much feel you are witnessing one of the last great, touring, English pop icons. A man who gives everything he can to his audience. The show is all about him and us; what goes on outside that bubble is irrelevant. He is a million miles away from the performers who might have the songs but barely make eye contact with the audience. He's played arenas and tiny clubs, seeming to prefer the latter despite his lifelong need for appreciation he can never get and his passion for counting sales - as if this bears some relationship to his value as an artist and place in history. He should stop worrying about such things; his legacy is assured.
As his shirt flew into the air just above my head as the First of the Gang encore came to its noisy end, I knew by now what to do -- move back, and fast. In front of me a snarling group, egged on by Morrissey, who has always been attracted to brutal violence (as long as animals aren't involved), jumped for it. A domino effect took hold and the entire middle of the audience fell to the floor. Some people helped each other up, as the rest started fights over the shirt, then security waded in and noses were bloodied. You know you've had a proper night when you've seen a few fights and you go to bed with a bandaged knee.
This Charming Man / I Just Want To See The Boy Happy / Black Cloud / How Soon Is Now? / Irish Blood, English Heart / Ask / I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris / How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel? / You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby / The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores / Girlfriend In A Coma / One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell / Why Don't You Find Out For Yourself / Life Is A Pigsty / Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want / When Last I Spoke To Carol / Sorry Doesn't Help / The Loop / I'm OK By Myself // First Of The Gang To Die