Months of obsessive stalking pay off for Music Editor Emily Barker, as she finally gets to interview Superorganism and compile all her research into a spotlight featureWritten by Emily Barker on 16th March 2018
Live Review: Morrissey
Morrissey flexes his musical muscles and exercises relative political restraint at his live date in Birmingham, to the relief of Redbrick's Harry Hetherington-Aherne
What a bizarre Tuesday night! The elephant in the very sizeable room – the 15,000-capacity Genting Arena hosts only the very biggest events in town – manifested itself in a collective awkwardness amongst the crowd. Most musicians have to die to enjoy the status that Morrissey has attained in his 58 years, and yet almost every member of the crowd seemed a little sheepish to be there at the beginning. His most recent sequence of increasingly indefensible tirades has stooped to praising Marine Le Pen and defending the ever-growing list of Hollywood abusers. What could once be defended by his most loyal fans, put down to simply having a ‘controversial’ viewpoint, has turned nasty. Clearly, there was a very real threat of Morrissey ruining his own performance, if he chose to.
“Clearly, there was a very real threat of Morrissey ruining his own performance, if he chose to
The show began with a half-hour of visual projections showing Morrissey’s artistic influences. James Brown performed ‘Say it Loud- I’m Black and I’m Proud’, the Sex Pistols played ‘God Save the Queen’, and the Ramones, James Baldwin and clips from 1960s French cinema all featured. Morrissey himself began with a cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘You’ll Be Gone’, a more stirring and fast-paced song than many on his newest album. Similarly, when he performed the night’s other cover, of The Pretenders’ ‘Back on the Chain Gang’, it evoked the jangly sounds of The Smiths. The majority of the performance, though, was made up of last year’s Low in High School. Highlights from the new album included ‘Who Will Protect us from the Police’, ending with chants of ‘VE-NEZ-UELA!’ against a backing projection of clips of police brutality. ‘I Bury the Living’ featured a hauntingly soft outro: ‘It’s funny how the war goes on / Without our John’.
During ‘Jackie’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage’, the final, repeated call of ‘everybody’s headed for the exit’ was caught up in cacophonous sound, blurring the ‘exit’ part of the line with a similar-sounding word beginning with ‘Br’. Despite obvious fears of politics spoiling the night utterly, Morrissey actually played it fairly safe. There was a definite sense of holding back in his interludes between songs, giving it more of a comic edge than a political one. The harder-hitting implications of what he did say were left to be constructed in the heads of the audience. Before ‘The Bullfighter Dies’, he declared, ‘Of Spain, I shall say’ (long pause) ‘… nothing’, to relieved laughter. During the song, gory imagery was projected behind him, showing the bull fighting back against its oppressor. Morrissey has, after all, been a vocal supporter of the Catalonia independence movement. This restraint probably helped carry over the appeal of some of the less well-liked songs from Low in High School. ‘Spent the Day in Bed’, most people’s favourite from the album, was received as well as his older work, and he sang the captivating bridge – ‘Time, do as I wish’ – beautifully.
“There was a definite sense of holding back in his interludes between songs, giving it more of a comic edge than a political one
From his older material, a lovely rendition of ‘Suedehead’ was sang back at him, word-for-word, and ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’ had those in the seated press area on their feet and in the aisles. A final, intense flurry of hits closed out the show. First, ‘How Soon Is Now’, in all its wailing glory, with guitarist Boz Boorer doing well to fill the Johnny Marr-shaped sonic hole in the song. Following ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’, Morrissey departed the stage, shirtless, re-emerging for an encore of ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’. ‘It could have been worse’ is the new, unfortunate standard Morrissey has set for himself, but it could certainly have been far, far worse.
Low in High School is out now via BMG. Morrissey will play four dates in London next week - tickets can be found here.