Oscar Wilde has long been pondering the question “Who is Morrissey?” from the back of the Manchester legend’s stage set. Small wonder that the great wit hasn’t found the answer yet: Morrissey is one contradictory musical malcontent that can irritate, underwhelm and inspire adoration in equal measure and did all three tonight.
Tonight’s idiosyncratic and strangely belligerent song choices did little to resolve the question.
Billed as Morrissey’s only UK gig of 2012, the expectation was of a triumphant, celebratory homecoming. However, interspersed with crowd-pleasers like ‘Ouija Board’ – delivered, at times on his knees, in plaintive tones to the adoring masses who matched him word for word – were songs that left the audience mumbling among themselves, such as ‘To Give (The Reason I Live) and ‘People are the Same Everywhere’ which sagged like an old mattress. Morrissey, commanding his stage, his people and his setlist, doesn’t have to care.
One between-songs soliloquy saw Morrissey harrumphing that he had been excluded from the Olympic opening ceremony “because my smile was judged to be too sincere.” There was Morrissey the martyr, misunderstood by a cold world yet glorying in its rejection, still whipping himself into splendid isolation with his own microphone lead.
This venue is not conducive to intimacy and a capacity crowd lent the night an atmosphere of a gloating, cheery end-of-season football game when your team’s already sewn up the league. However, Morrissey’s five-piece – dressed in ‘We Hate William and Kate’ t-shirts – were more than a match for the cavernous acoustics, Boz Boorer again in drag and introduced by Morrissey as ‘Gaynor Tension’. Drummer Eric Gardner was particularly commanding.
‘Every Day is Like Sunday’ and ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ were genuinely moving, and the final song, ‘Still Ill’ sent nostalgic thrills around the arena. Yet crowd reaction again underlines the impossibility of pinning Morrissey down: some, with evangelical light in their eyes, declared the night a triumph while others were more critical – of the song choices, of Morrissey’s levels of enthusiasm and of his ill-advised forays into politics.
His declared gratitude towards Israel for giving him the key to Tel Aviv was far more cringeworthy than the sight of a middle aged man tearing his shirt off in a lone spotlight, a sight which induced Bieber-esque euphoria in people of both genders who clearly have no intention of ever being old enough to know better.
So who is Morrissey? One suspects that even with the long-awaited publication of his autobiography, we’ll never really know. But there’s still enough style, beauty and passion there to hope that he’ll be around for a long, long time to come.
You Have Killed Me / Everyday Is Like Sunday / You’re The One For Me, Fatty / How Soon Is Now? / I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris / Ouija Board, Ouija Board / Maladjusted / Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me / When Last I Spoke To Carol / People Are The Same Everywhere / I Know It’s Over / To Give (The Reason I Live) / Black Cloud / Scandinavia / Meat Is Murder / Let Me Kiss You / Action Is My Middle Name / I Will See You In Far Off Places / Speedway / Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want // Still Ill
Photo: Amanda J Window
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