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“This is my life,” are the words Morrissey welcomes the crowd with. And what a life it is at the moment: playing a large number of songs taken from an album that was pulled after just three weeks due to various disagreements with Harvest records and has seen him without a record contract ever since. After the runaway success of his ‘Autobiography’ he is days away from releasing his debut novel, ‘List of the Lost’, something he doesn’t even mention this evening. With no outlet for new music in the UK on the horizon, Morrissey has stated that this two-night booking in Hammersmith is “likely” to be his “final ever UK shows”.
The fact that Morrissey refuses to acknowledge the terminal state of album sales and the lucrative lifeline touring has been to the music industry – and can continue to be to him, since no artist has fans as dedicated as he – seems rather misguided but he still gives good showing in that other money-spinning outlet: the merchandise table. “Be kind to animals or I’ll kill you” t-shirts fly off the shelf next to the PETA stands that are part of Morrissey’s touring crew.
Despite the changes to the wider music world, Morrissey’s realm remains reassuringly the same. His first steps on stage are prefaced by a delightfully eclectic variety of video footage, ranging from Anne Sexton reading a poem titled ‘Wanting to Die’ to Bob and Marcia performing ‘Young, Gifted and Black’. His band remain impressively firm and versatile and in matching outfits. And, as ever, his audience is made up entirely by people of the most strikingly devoted order. Morrissey’s stage demeanour remains stately and commanding, his intrinsic majesty transfusing into everyone present who physically cannot sing one of his lyrics without grandly stretching out a single arm with an open, skyward facing palm that offers the sentiment to the world.
Morrissey’s song choices tonight are, on the whole, challenging. Perhaps finally sick and tired of the fact that every time he expresses an opinion, headlines of supposed of controversy are created (one does wish that every artist or public figure that is too afraid to form opinions and express them should be handed their P45 – it certainly would thin the herd), tonight he commits to many of the feather-ruffling numbers in his arsenal; ‘Staircase at the University’ (sample lyric: “She threw herself down and her head split three ways”) , ‘World Peace Is None of Your Business’, ‘Istanbul’, ‘The World is Full of Crashing Bores’, ‘The Bullfighter Dies’, ‘Oboe Concerto’ and a powerfully punctuated ‘I Will See You In Far Off Places’ all strongly bristle.
In-between song quips are as much a part of any Morrissey show as the music, and he does not disappoint. He urges the crowd not to vote and “support the process”. In reference to the current government he asks if anyone is happy with the arrangement. A resounding “No” follows. “That’s the United Kingdom,” he shrugs. On Labour’s new leader: “I hope Jeremy Corbyn does not does not – does not – go to Buckingham Palace and kneel before the Third Reich.” And when there is a complete power cut after he plays a cover of Elvis Presley’s “You’ll Be Gone”: “It’s a conspiracy! It’s Buckingham Palace! They’re gonna get me. And I’m not kidding!”
Humour aside, tonight’s show had two tormenting centre pieces. The first, whilst he plays ‘Ganglord’, footage of American police brutality is projected high above the band: (mostly) black men, women, peaceful protestors, the disabled, animals and acquiescent civilians all savagely beaten and tortured. It’s paralysing. “American Taliban” is Morrissey’s closing comment. Later comes ‘Meat Is Murder’ with unapologetically graphic films of animal slaughter across the world. The stage is dimly lit a scarlet red so that Morrisey’s repeated cries of “eat” and “kill” act as ominous narration. Opposition to organised and state-sanctioned cruelty should not be seen as some quirk of Morrissey’s, it should be a shared belief that one is ashamed not to possess.
The only healing salve of the evening comes in the form of the Morrissey’s 1988 debut solo single ‘Suedehead’; still so gently enchanting. The recent ‘Kiss Me A Lot’ too provided a moment of light, romantic release. But the eternally mesmerising ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ is the most uniting and crowning moment of the night. Yes, a sold-out hall all willing on the dropping of a nuclear bomb is a strangely beautiful thing. Seeing Morrissey live can vary from the harrowing to the sublime, but, hey, isn’t that all our lives?
All this housed inside a venue where a new restaurant called Meat Yard prepares to open next door. And a world where the next morning the UK will be greeted by the front-page news that it’s prime minister once placed his genitals inside the mouth of a dead pig. Morrissey – we need you still.
Written for FMS