Morrissey live in Manchester 2012 : photo Hayley Taylor
Morrissey live in Manchester 2012 : photo Hayley Taylor

Hayley Taylor “>photo by Hayley Taylor

Morrissey live in Manchester 2012 : photo Hayley Taylor
Morrissey live in Manchester 2012 : photo Hayley Taylor

Last month the Dalai Llama appeared at the MEN Arena to deliver his message and take on combating the calamitous state of the world to a packed arena full of ever devoted disciple s and those simply interested to see what the fuss is about. Tonight’s appearance by Morrissey could be categorised as exactly the same.

Morrissey is a national treasure quite unlike any other ”“ whether we like it or not. He’s aged without mellowing, giving up, growing up and shutting up exactly as he promised without hypocrisy or pandering to the powers that be. Even amongst those who didn’t like him then and don’t like him now, there’s a perverse obsession with what goes on between his ears; the reason why when his now-completed autobiography eventually hits shelves (early 2013 was his last estimation) it will rampage through the bestseller lists like ”˜Fifty Shades of Grey’ on acid.

Surprisingly early (at around 8.30PM) the lights dim and the sounds of ”˜the Imperfect List’ echo across the arena ”“ the thrillingly apocalyptic Pete Wylie penned spoken word track bemoaning everything from “John Lennon’s murder” to “anyone’s murder”, “the Tory invention of the non-working class” and “weird British judges”. This soundtracks a frenzied rush to get down from the arena entrance to the floor, culminating in frightening crushes dotted around the venue that were handled with inexperience and little regard for human safety by the stewards. Alas, after some panic and little more spilt than lager, the arena is packed and ready for Morrissey’s arrival on the stage.

The strange artistic collage that a Morrissey gig can be begins with Morrissey’s chosen opening words to the arena, a rendition of a few lines from Patti Smith’s seminal track ”˜Horses’. As he spits the final ”˜horses, horses, horses…’ the crashing opening bars of 2006 hit ”˜You Have Killed Me’ fill the room. No matter what the naysayers or belligerent press dictate, Morrissey as a solo artist is still and has always been a huge deal. The way the audience hangs on every word of the sumptuous croon of ”˜You Have Killed Me’ says it all. Some elements of the press like to assert that Morrissey’s audience are indoctrinated oddities mysteriously under the spell of something occult ”“ this gravely and deliberately underestimates the power and the potency of his fiercely pop output. Frontloading the set with hits, Morrissey beams “At your service!” before launching into the string-heavy delight of ”˜Every Day is Like Sunday’. A big moment for second song in, and the crowd respond with further delight. Though more stilled in movements on stage in recent years, Morrissey’s presence both vocally and physically is hypnotic and effortlessly iconic.

Morrissey’s band now present a heavier, darker sound than his previous groups but this energy and rock edge breathes new life into unusual places of old songs, particularly The Jam-meets-glam of ”˜You’re the One for Me, Fatty’ and the other worldly jangle of ”˜Ouija Board, Ouija Board’. Morrissey’s longest serving bandmate and co-songwriter Boz Boorer is in full drag (introduced by Morrissey as ”˜Gaynor Tension’) and lead guitarist Jesse Tobias struts across the stage trashing his guitar with guttural aggression reminiscent of Morrissey fetish Johnny Thunders.

The MEN arena doesn’t often hold unsigned artists, and it definitely doesn’t hold the level of politics and subversion that it does tonight. ”˜WE HATE WILLIAM AND KATE’ emblazoned across the t-shirts of his band, calls to be rid of the Royal family, a video of inside a slaughterhouse and…a backdrop of Adam West and Burt Ward (TV’s original Batman and Robin).

After having received the freedom of the city of Tel Aviv, Morrissey appears with Israeli flags adorning his drummer Eric Gardener’s double bass drum, and notes only half-sarcastically that he can’t think why Manchester City Council haven’t offered him any award. So little is understood of Morrissey, and it’s this enigma that adds to the confusing appeal of his on stage presence. Often pop stars explain that they only exist on a stage, but with Morrissey it’s constantly clear that this maxim is incredibly true. Shades of shyness and self deprecation still burst out from the man revealing the awkward teenager mobilised by punk and literature. Commenting on the Olympics, Morrissey quips “I wasn’t invited to the Olympic opening ceremony as my smile was deemed too sincere”, and references local Harpurhey and “there’s no place like Hulme”. Poignantly, Morrissey dedicates the concert to John Macbeath, the legendary SJM tour manager who he often worked with.

The energy needed to sustain an arena set sometimes lulls, though this is no criticism on the strength of the material or performance. A cover of Frankie Valli’s ”˜To Give (Is the Reason I Live) has the bombast of a Bond theme coloured with shades of Ennio Morricone, and the Morricone influence is further felt in pounding new track ”˜Scandinavia’.

Location has always provided inspiration for Moz be it the disused railway lines and iron bridges of Stretford, the Jack-the-Ripper-via-the-Kray-Twins grime of ”˜giddy London’ or the phoney glitz of LA and it’s oppressed Latino ghettos. ”˜Scandinavia’ is no exception, as Morrissey praises with perfect intonation the soil and the fjords of Scandinavia. First debuted in a Janice Long session last year, the anthemic ”˜Action Is My Middle Name’ (introduced as ”˜a new track that is now an old track’) receives a bigger sing-along than an airing of the title track of self-confessed “misfire” album ”˜Maladjusted’ from 1997.

”˜Action Is My Middle Name’ should by rights be Morrissey’s next big hit if and when he’s offered a recording contract again. Smiths classics ”˜I Know It’s Over’ and ”˜Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ work beautifully on such a grand scale, and Morrissey appears genuinely moved and overawed with much of the response. The end of the set picks up greatly with the Eastern flavours of ”˜Let Me Kiss You’ and a furious ”˜Speedway’ ”“ the unapologetic closing track to 1994 number 1 album ”˜Vauxhall and I’, Morrissey’s undeniable definitive work. The theme of collage and diversity of influence is furthered with Morrissey’s recital of a few lines from an Irving Berlin show song (”˜if my song can start you crying, I’m happy’) before entering into a uniquely moving ”˜Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’, stripped of its Irish-tined guitar waltz to a simple piano piece soundtracked by a whole arena of voices. At the song’s climax, Morrissey lies on the floor just in front of his audience, all hands rushing to wherever he is to attain a coveted handshake or even a glance.

Morrissey appears to be taking in the spectacle when he announced “I love you…” to his audience and begins the final track of the night, a frenzied ”˜Still Ill’. Scenes over the last thirty years of Moz-worship play out as fans of a discernibly younger age fight and climb one another ”“ and the security ”“ to get on the stage to touch their hero. A strange religious ceremony of transubstantiation and reconciliation, or just a manifestation of the power of pop, it’s a sight to behold. He exits the stage with some reluctance as ”˜Still Ill’ draws to a close, and one thing is clear; in this room England is his, and whether it owes him a living or not it definitely owes him a record deal to put out another album.

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