Muscular but uneven show delights and dismays the Moz faithful.
Moz puts backs up in Glasgow with a reliably controversial performance.
MORRISSEY SSE HYDRO, GLASGOW SATURDAY, 17 FEBRUARY, 2018
It takes Morrissey roughly 45 minutes tonight to open his mouth and say something that upsets people. It comes moments before he and his band launch into the testing slog of World Peace Is None Of Your Business, the title track of one of his less lovable solo albums. “I am curious to ask you a question,” he coyly asks several thousand Glaswegians, bathed in the light of several illuminated school badges that hang above his head. “Do you actually like Nicola Sturgeon?” The response – a mix of cheers and boos, equally vociferous – indicates the subject of Scottish independence is still a thorny one here in a city that voted emphatically in favour of breaking away from the UK. He ploughs on regardless. “Those hands would be in anybody’s pockets,” he says, a reference to the First Minister’s plans for a tax hike. By his recent standards, it’s softball stuff. It’s certainly not in the same league as defending Kevin Spacey from accusations of sexual harassment or calling the Chinese “a subspecies”. Still, his words – simultaneously teasing and provocative – aren’t necessarily well received by everyone here. According to a dramatic report in one local newspaper the next day, the jibe prompts an unspecified number of “furious concert goers” to storm out in disgust, a story picked up and run with by several national news outlets. From Q’s vantage point in the upper tier, this exodus of the disgruntled is barely noticeable. While empty seats and curtained-off sections in the upper levels suggest a less than full house, there are more than enough people to paper over the cracks left by the walk-out. It does beg a bigger question: what kind of Morrissey fan doesn’t expect to be dismayed or offended by something he says? Putting up with his master’s proclamations is all part of the job.
But what was once audacious (calling for the Royal Family to be hanged, comparing meat-eating to child abuse) now tends towards the reactionary. Of course, you can level many accusations at Morrissey, but ignorance of the consequences of his action isn’t one of them. Calling his various utterances calculated is stretching it, but they have certainly kept him in the conversation in a way that his music hasn’t for a long time. Ironically, he appears to have relocated his muse recently. Last year’s Low In High School was his best album in over a decade, and it is represented by eight tracks in the setlist. He’s certainly pleased with the reception it received here. “When we released our recent LP,” he says midway through the show, ever the analogue man in a digital world, “the country throughout the world that gave it the highest chart position was… Scotland!” He makes it sound like everyone else is criminally under-appreciating him, but he’s fooling no one. Morrissey knows his own worth more than most other artists. This could explain the decision to forgo a support act on this tour, instead opting to open with a 30- minute film projected onto a giant screen hanging in front of the stage. The footage consists of vintage videos from Moz-approved artists, ranging from the obvious (New York Dolls, Ramones, Dionne Warwick) to the droll (Russian faux-schoolgirl duo t.a.T.u’s helium-voiced update of The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now). Were it not for the brief snippet of performance artist David Hoyle, it could be an impeccably programmed episode of Top Of The Pops 2. But it also serves a bigger purpose: to ensure there’s no chance of the main attraction being upstaged. Now more than ever, Morrissey seems to exist in his own sealed-off world, like an ageing opera diva or paranoid billionaire. Threats to his greatness, real or imagined, have been shut down. Which is odd, because he remains a magnetic live performer. Whatever health problems have plagued him in recent years, prompting the cancellation of numerous gigs, have seemingly been vanquished. He stalks the stage restlessly, a barrel-chested flamenco dancer whipping shapes from his microphone lead while his band – silent, static, clad in uniform white T-shirts reading, “No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care” – lurk obediently several feet behind him.
His voice sounds fantastic, too, sweeping effortlessly from Munich Air Disaster 1958’ s torch singer croon to the ejaculatory yelps that punctuate Spent The Day In Bed. That song is a highlight of the new album, and of tonight’s show too, a gloriously jaunty celebration of 21st- century ennui. It also acts as a misdirection for the song that follows it, a brutal The Bullfighter Dies, whose message is hammered home by some on-the-nose
footage of matadors being gored on the screen at the back of the stage. The set follows the same broad arc as his solo career: moments of glory peppered by periods of drudgery. In the former corner are Suedehead, dispatched early and still sounding fantastic, and a charged Speedway, a song that encapsulates the mix of defiance and victimhood that defines the man who wrote it. Another new song, When You Open Your Legs, is a long, fabulous swoon, while a cover of The Pretenders’ Back On The Chain Gang is unexpected but welcome. The less sparkling moments are in the minority, but there’s no escaping them. On record, Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage is trim and waspish; here it’s ground out with grim determination. I Bury The Living is even harder work: an anti-military screed so joyless that it actually makes you want to sign up for the army. The latter is accompanied by an image of the original, undoctored photo that appeared on the cover of Meat Is Murder. It’s a rare callback to his former band. Just two Smiths songs are aired tonight, I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish and How Soon Is Now. Both have been recalibrated to bring them in line with Morrissey’s latter-day solo career: the playful snap of the former is replaced by booming percussion; the latter adds a metallic edge to the original’s riff and concludes with a crash of the huge gong that hangs at the back of the stage. Still, it’s not as startling as the current version of Everyday Is Like Sunday. A song that once gazed wistfully out of the bedroom window of life now sounds like it spends its weekends bench-pressing 250lbs down the gym. The whiff of indelicacy that surrounds it is a reminder that one of the biggest issues Morrissey faces in 2018 is that he used to be Morrissey. But that Boy-King is long gone, consigned to yellowing magazines and episodes of TOTP2. As if to stamp out any remaining doubts, he concludes the night’s sole encore, a rampant Irish Blood, English Heart, by whipping off his top to reveal a physique that’s more great oak than youthful sapling. It’s one final piece of theatre from a man who has long known the value of drama.
THE SET FOLLOWS THE SAME BROAD ARC AS HIS SOLO CAREER: MOMENTS OF GLORY PEPPERED BY PERIODS OF DRUDGERY.
Hit the North: (clockwise from below) Morrissey with his band in their No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care T-shirts; Moz reaches out to fans perhaps displeased by his Nicola Sturgeon comments; the gong show – Morrissey “remains a magnetic performer.”
“Scotland, are you ready to be mildly offended?!”: the SSE Hydro, Glasgow.
Morrissey thrills, then upsets, the Glasgow faithful (p98).