live review

Morrissey

Morrissey

December 14 2012
Wellington Town Hall, Wellington

Reviewed by Martyn Pepperell
17th December 2012

Full disclosure: While I have, like most of us, heard the music of The Smiths and Morrissey, I've never really heard it in the way that leads to the obsession a lot of people seem to hold with this man and his songs. Similarly, while I understand that he is a controversial figure, a lot of his real or supposed politics or social stances have blissfully passed me by. In that respect, I went into his concert in Wellington on Friday night in a very neutral frame of mind, ready to judge it on the music, the performance and nothing else.

There was a brief moment there where if you were short of sight, you might have just thought Morrissey had walked on stage with the All Blacks. We'd just been treated to a dark ambient introduction, where squelchy ambient noises were juxtaposed with terms of hatred, fear and oppression and now the big man was on stage, flanked by a bunch of guys in rugby shirts. But no, it was just his band and following a quick chant to the effect of "I am nothing", as the light show exploded, Morrissey and band were right into it with 'Shoplifters Of The World'.

To say the massive audience, mixed in age, colour and dress, were in heaven would be an understatement. And for the next hour and a half, that was pretty much the state they stayed in. Well, as lifted as a Morrissey/Smiths audience can get, which is high, but not the sort of heights obtainable with a spaceship or a ladder that's forever. Running through well measured renditions of songs like 'You're The One For Me, Fatty', 'How Soon Is Now?', 'First Of The Gang To Die', 'Everyday Is Like Sunday' and 'Irish Blood, English Heart', he finished the night off with an encore of 'Still Ill'.

Now, a few points to note: Around every half hour he let the music collapse into a sea of experimental tones as an interlude. 'Meat Is Murder' was performed in an almost Death Metal style, with red lights on stage really ramming home his pro vegetarian message. He gave his band an instrumental break three quarters of the way through the set and let them showcase their own skills in a hard rock style. The drummer had some huge light up tribal drums, and every time he hit them, it seemed like lightning had just erupted in the room. And yes, he did go topless for a moment. And again yes, the audience got to talk on the microphone near the end, which lead to people telling him he'd changed their life, or that they were in love with him.

Comparing his live performance as a singer to his recordings, now aged 53, Morrissey's voice has lasted very well. He still stalks the stage like a lion, which is somewhat ironic considering his dietary choices, but maybe not that ironic when you think of the massive dinosaurs of the Jurassic era who were herbivores. His band plays very well as well, presenting his songs more or less exactly how his core audience probably wants to hear them.

Listening to a career wide cross section of his songs over an hour and a half, a couple of things became apparent. Firstly, his actual music hasn't really evolved that much over his career. He has his go to formulas and sticks to them, which given his voice and skill with words, works out very well for him. Secondly, viewed under the light of the post internet era, it's amusing how many of his choruses read like the sort of motivational quote someone would cut and paste onto a photograph of a sunset in Oregon and upload onto their facebook page with love hearts attached. This isn't a good thing or a bad thing per say, it's just an observation on how slogan heavy his writing style is. But hey, this is a guy who sang the line, "England is mine, and it owes me a living, but ask me why and I'll spit in your eye." As serious as he is, he also has a sense of humor, and the dynamic between those two pulls might be the best thing about the music of Morrissey. He's human and he needs to be loved, just like everybody does.

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