Morrissey : Manchester Arena : live review
John was at Morrissey’s gig last night at Manchester Arena. We also had a photographer present who took a stunning set of images. Some of these are scattered throughout John’s review, the rest are in a photo gallery at the foot of it. All these photographs are ÃÂ© Hayley Taylor.
It’s during an elongated Meat is Murder that it suddenly strikes you just how weird this gig really is.
Normally, packed arena gigs are for dancing puppets and please, please me pop stars in love with their fifteen seconds of fame and sucking the cock of Satan for their drip feed of success.
These goofs will do anything to please the crowd with their minuscule talents and desperate rabbit in headlight grins.
I can bet you a million that they would never, ever get near anything as heavy duty and strange at Meat As Murder. The band, made up of mainly new members dressed in ”ËI hate William and Kate’ T Shirts and one older member, Boz Boorer who is dressed in drag and introduced by Morrissey as Gaynor Attention (as in ”Ëgain attention’ maybe?) pile up the droog feedback and noise. Boz in his drag rags looks like a less svelte version of the gorgeous and godlike Poison Ivy, ex Cramps guitar heroineÃÂ (who is someone I would love to see Morrissey work with).
The band are building up layers of white noise whilst the screen at the back has some truly shocking footage of the vile treatment of animals in slaughter houses.
It’s like watching a Crass gig in 1981 with its shock tactics and raw power, except this has got Morrissey at the front crooning his anti animal cruelty lyrics in the song which lasts for nearly ten minutes. This is defiantly and definitely not a crowd pleaser and not for the first time tonight is a cause of debate amongst the faithful whether they eat meat or not.
Like the Fall and Mark Smith, Morrissey is not someone to be agreed with. He’s on the righteous side of course but likes to confront, confuse and cause trouble. He says stuff that causes media meltdown but we still know that he’s on the side of the angels.
You don’t go and see Morrissey for his greatest hits like you don’t go and see the Fall for their greatest hit. This is always going to be thought provoking and provocative in a way that punk should have been.
Tonight it’s a provocative set- not just for feedback laden animal rights anthems but the darker side of his psyche and catalogue explored in a soul bearing psychodrama.
The audience is split; some say that’s the way Morrissey is, some agree, some are violently opposed to songs like Meat Is Murder and some take to message boards to vent their spleen and yet at the gig I have never seen such devotion with the constantly out stretched arms of the youthful, packed mosh pit.
Welcome to world of Morrissey where even the disciples are pushed to the brink by the ringmaster. The ringmaster who operates on so many different levels at the same time in a confusing barrage of emotions and feelings that it’s hard to keep up with.
All the great singers work on many levels, Joey Ramone could be perceived as being dumb when he sang songs of heartbreak and beauty that no-one actually noticed because they were to busy going crazy at the front, the same with Iggy who masked his intellect into a primal, caveman grunt.
Morrissey works on this kind of level, he can be really funny and charming with his incisive lyrical wit, singing away beneath the Oscar Wilde backdrop but he can also be awkward, stubborn and cantankerous and that makes him all the better- a high IQ ÃÂ trouble maker with a sense of beauty and anger surrounded by the talentless in the pop parade.
Tonight he is pushing his fans, who have come from all over Europe to virtually sell out the cavernous Manchester Arena- the biggest indoor venue in the UK. If they are here for a party and a rattle through the big hits then they were in for a shock.
For sure there are lighter moments, like You’re The One For Me Fatty and a smattering of Smiths fare like How Soon Is Now? , I Know It’s Over , Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved MeÃÂ and Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I WantÃÂ but Morrissey has decided to play the darker and stranger songs from his catalogue and not the obvious ones like ‘First of the Gang’ or ‘Irish Blood’ and that’s what makes this gig both intriguing and addictive.
Not that Morrissey is playing a set of noise, he is far too cultured for that and still retains that gorgeous swoon of a voice. The set list tonight is very testing but that is its strength. The mood is downbeat, melancholic- the darker, slower, croonier songs are played including slowed down versions of Please, Please, Please (with a spoken intro quoting Irving Berlin’s ‘Let Me Sing and I’m Happy’) and Still Ill which was the only encore maybe because his voice was beginning to croak.
This is no wam bam thank you mam greatest hits set. It’s a test. If you are with him you dive in and let the music take you. There is a big greatest hits catalogue to choose from but instead it’s more about the sound and the mood.
Testing as great rock n roll should be.
He could do with more new songs though, there are three new songs in the set including ÃÂ the Morricone fused Scandinavia and the romp through Action Is My Middle NameÃÂ ÃÂ but there is a cloud of doubt over the future, where is the next album? What is the next album? Are there any more songs?
You can’t pin anything on Morrissey, he is shape shifting through his complex moods and emotions- sure, there is heartbreak and melancholia in the set tonight but what does it mean? He is talking of retiring, saying he is too old for this business, but is he just toying with people or does he mean it? The persistent Smiths to reform rumours just won’t go away and he doesn’t have a record deal. He is in, what could best be described as an awkward position with the media, a media he can always outsmart if he has to.
Of course there are mini solo hits like Ouija Board and evergreen classics peppering the set like Every Day Is Like A Sunday- the salty, swooning classic about a seaside town which always strikes a chord if you grew up in one (it’s actually about Borth in Wales not my beloved Blackpool).
The complainers though just don’t get it. Morrissey is not a K-tel greatest hits artist. Surely everyone loves him because of his awkwardness and his contradictions. Very northern, very Mancunian, Morrissey is never going to make things easy for himself- preferring confrontation to easy success, preferring to piss off the whole of the UK media with one snappy quote, saying stuff that you agree with but wish he had said in another way.
The weird thing about Morrissey is that he is an underground artist trapped in the mainstream. Not that he’s complaining. It got him a house in LA and a five star lifestyle but did it make him any happier? His instincts, though, still err towards the underground, that fervent underground of post punk and even farther back to that underground of the mid seventies, the fevered glimpses of the New York Dolls, the affronting of morals of Johnny Thunders guitar thuggery- the dark haired raven mooching his guitar, the sexual tension of the Velvet Underground, the let yer ya yas hang out of Patti Smith– that’s Morrissey’s world- the world of dark, underground art and somehow he is playing this in the mainstream of enormodromes- it’s an awkward fit but in my world awkward is good.
Filter this through the confusion of post punk, the confrontation of punk itself and you have a recipe for some thing that is not your usual modern mainstream fare.
Morrissey is a bundle of contradictions, a great performer who doesn’t seem comfortable his own skin, an Elvis/Frank Sinatra hybrid who commands the stage but looks like he can’t wait to get off it.
There is a moment of ÃÂ real psychodrama when he rips his shirt of in Let Me Kiss You during the line, ”ËBut then you open your eyes and you see someone that you physically despise’”Â¦does he think this? Is he full of self disgust? Is he playing with the crowd? It’s powerful and confusing and questioning of the role of performer- a lot to cram in a stadium show!
Recently he claimed he was going to retire soon, claiming, “I am slightly shocked to have gone as far as I have. This is my 30th year, and I’ve aged a lot recently, which is a bit distressing for me, as it must be for everyone. he body changes shape and there’s nothing you can do about it . . . I take one hour at a time.”
It puts a strange context on the discarded shirt which flutters into the crowd to be torn apart by the Morrissey fanatics. It’s a poignant moment as the audience bay for their master the intensity of their devotion is still powerful after all these years.
Not that this a gloomy evening, Morrissey seems to be having a ball and the asides are as funny as ever. He claims he wasn’t invited to Danny Boyle’s Olympics ceremony because his smile was too sincere and that he wasn’t invited to the Jubilee either and wonders how much longer ‘that family will be with us’ and the set ends with a backdrop showing Adam West and Burt Ward Of Batman And Robin fame in a quite camp pose and there is a great T shirt for the gig with Morrissey’s head superimposed onto the classic George Best shot.
He’s still funny and still playing with pop imagery in a cut and paste neo Xerox fanzine take on the pop culture parade.
Morrissey is the eternal misfit who still won’t play the game by its boring rules. Cantankerous, awkward, difficult he is the Mark Smith with the hits. The outsider who somehow got in on the inside- the thinker and the author who ended up having to be a performer. The pop culture soaked fanatic who became part of pop culture himself. A singer with a devoted worldwide fan base who criticise his gigs in minute detail and swoon at the mention of the man himself.
He ends the night dedicating the evening to the recently deceased Mancunian tour manager John Mcbeath. It’s a touching moment of genuine emotion and quite affecting.
Oscar Wilde looks on proudly- causing confusion with confrontation, brilliant wit and raw emotion was something he dealt in. Getting understood was just too boring.
No-one gets Morrissey. I doubt Morrissey even gets Morrissey.
And that’s the way it should be.
All photographs ÃÂ© Hayley Taylor. Hayley sent over more photo’s than just those embedded amongst John’s review above, the rest of which are below. Click on each thumbnail to see full size: