As Morrissey and his band walked onto the stage at the O2 Arena and participated in a group hug, the audience seemed suddenly gripped by a maelstrom of emotion. Whether this was joy or relief was difficult to tell. On this tour, having the band turn up at all is something of an achievement. All we had to do now was keep them on stage until the last song had finished.
The European leg of the ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’ Tour kicked off in Lisbon on 6 October. During the past month three dates have been cancelled because the band and crew contracted influenza, one performance ended after twenty five minutes because Morrissey left the stage-and the building- apparently fearing for his safety after being subjected to “offensive and chauvinistic words” by a member of the audience, and another was curtailed during the encore after fans attempted to gain access to the stage and the artist was bundled into the wings by security, never to return. We all hoped that any drama we would experience tonight would be provided entirely by the lead performer.
Morrissey is, after all, rather good at drama. He has always courted controversy and age seems to have had no mellowing effect. From the moment you enter the arena and encounter signs at every burger outlet stating, “At the request of the artist, there will be no meat products available tonight,” you become aware that, unlike most concerts, this won’t simply be an entertainment experience. Indeed, even during the interval between the support act and the main event you are treated to music, video and poetry which includes a black and white clip of Anne Sexton reading “Wanting to Die,” footage of happy crowds celebrating the demise of Margaret Thatcher to the background of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead,” and a track from his latest album entitled “The Bullfighter Must Die” accompanied by video of the event described. Morrissey is happy to push his opinions in your direction at all times. Mind you, he’s also happy to sell you a tea towel, or a pillow case with his face on it.
After opening with “The Queen is Dead” Morrissey steps to the front of the stage, surveys the adoring throng and intones, “I’m privileged beyond my wildest dreams.” As with many of his statements, you are unsure whether to take this seriously or not. For all his affected pomposity and preaching you sense that underneath there is a warm, humorous, sensitive human being. He moves into “Suedehead,” at which point you notice that his voice is as good as ever and his band are quite exceptional. You also notice that, main man aside, everyone else on stage is wearing a t-shirt bearing the legend, “F*** Harvest Records;” a direct reference to his latest calamity. His most recent album managed to be released then, within three weeks, deleted by the aforementioned record company, and a bitter dispute is ongoing.”World Peace Is None Of Your Business” ends with the statement “That was the title track from our latest CD album, cleverly deleted by the record label.” As the crowd voiced their support, he added, “Well let them know,” and you felt that if twelve thousand people decided to march on the Harvest Records HQ he’d happily provide the tea and sandwiches.
Listening to tracks from that latest album you had to admit that he had a point. Title track aside, ten of the other tracks played during the evening were taken from this recording, and although you had to question whether it was a good idea to design your show around an album which much of your audience will not have been able to hear, there was great quality throughout. “Staircase At The University” and “Earth Is The Loneliest Planet” sit particularly well alongside the best of his repertoire.
You couldn’t help but feel, however, that much of the audience had come along hoping to hear The Smiths Greatest Hits. They were always going to be disappointed. Only three songs from that section of his career were featured- indeed, Smiths or solo there were few instantly recognisable tracks here- and those that were chosen, with perhaps one exception, were not the best examples of the period. Prior to “Meat Is Murder” he launched into a diatribe about the recent revelations that seventy per cent of chicken sold is contaminated, ending with a maniacal laugh which wouldn’t have been out of place in an Austin Powers movie. During the track the audience were subjected to a number of videos of animal slaughter and cruelty, and whilst you could understand his sentiments you wonder if subjecting the public to such images was strictly necessary.
The latter section of the concert flagged somewhat. “Scandinavia,” “Kick The Bride Down The Aisle” and “I’m Not A Man” deliver on quality but are hardly crowd pleasers, and you could continually hear loud snatches of conversation above the music. Only on the encore did the evening come back to life.
Morrissey walked to the front of the stage, surveyed the audience, and stated, “I would only ask, remember me but forget my fate,” before launching into “Asleep.” He trod a fine line between staged melancholy and sentimentality, and you had to wonder which emotion to believe. His latest health scares brought to the fore, he suddenly seemed exhausted by the endeavour of the evening. As he sang, beautifully, “Don’t feel bad for me, I want you to know; deep in the cell of my heart, I really want to go,” you could sense those around you trying to decipher whether these words suddenly had a new poignancy. Then he launched into an energetic “Every Day Is Like Sunday,” the audience finally came to life, and you wished that more of the evening had been like this.
As the crowd filed slowly towards the exit, you could hear voices raised in song. We were treated to community singing of “Panic,” “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and “Hand In Glove,” amongst others. It brought clearly to life both what we’d received and what we’d missed. The evening had been a triumph, but the scale of that triumph could have been significantly greater with different song choices. Deep down, though, you know that Morrissey will always go his own way, and that his fans will always appreciate him nonetheless. The Pope of Mope is still leading his church, and there seems no lessening of the congregation.
Published on in Random Ramblings.