Singular pseudonyms are often an indicator of cult status in the music industry – Bono, Slash, Elvis – but they can also point towards a certain arrogance, implicitly connecting mortals with a nice singing voice to the big (wo)man in the sky. Sometimes that’s not their fault; when a fan comes to idolise a musician enough, they willingly convert them into a deity. We went a little further down the coast to Plymouth to see one who has eagerly accepted that cult title.
Steven Morrissey, a.k.a Morrissey, Mozzer, or Moz, has attained God status fronting British rock idols The Smiths, but is admittedly lesser known for his solo career which commenced upon the band’s break-up. The image attached to him has become somewhat of a stumbling block, with many fans expecting Smiths songs at gigs making no promise of them whatsoever (despite official merchandise adorned with former lyrics). Although he maintains his operatic melancholia, Morrissey’s musical direction has changed vastly, and expecting an entirely Smiths setlist from a man escaping the legacy of a band that split almost thirty years ago is like peering into an open can of baked beans looking for spaghetti hoops.
IT WAS like peering into an open can of baked beans looking for spaghetti hoops
While the music has changed, Morrissey’s persona has not. At all. We only mention this so early as it often outshines the music that you actually pay to see. It was certainly the same Morrissey fuelled with vastly-out-of-proportion-self-esteem in the room, but rather than detracting it seemed to delight the fans. On walking into the Plymouth Pavilions, we were told that he would be on stage at 20:49 precisely, with support coming from a film that he had made. We vowed nevertheless to forget the overriding Morrissey-ness of it all, and give his music a fair hearing.
The film, that turned out to be a collection of YouTube clips, was presumably intending to nod towards Morrissey’s influences and was extremely eclectic, if not drawn out and ignored by fans. When he eventually appeared, supported by a five-piece band, Morrissey worked his way through 19 songs, displaying a wide variety of textures and styles, with a particular focus on world music, including Arabian, aboriginal and flamenco influenced tracks. The one constant was Morrissey’s melodramatic, yearning vocals which remained fairly similar throughout the whole set. He still possesses one of the most iconic voices in British rock, and was on pitch throughout almost two hours worth of music, a slap in the face to all critics claiming his voice has deteriorated.
“Do you like Jeremy Corbyn? You know he’s a vegetarian, and he hates the monarchy, as we all do. and He doesn’t believe in wars. so they’re going to assassinate him.”
Despite the tightness of the band and the variety of genres they took influence from, a number of songs were forgettable if not for their visual accompaniments. Occasionally, though, the visuals worked in tandem with the music, for example on classic Smiths’ song ‘Meat Is Murder’, where collages of stock news footage and amateur filming publicly shamed every non-vegan in the audience in a predictably powerful showing. Morrissey’s intense politics were unwavering throughout, touching on police brutality in ‘Ganglord’ and hyper-masculinity in ‘I’m Not A Man’. In one brief moment of audience interaction, he even went to predict the fall of Jeremy Corbyn in a passive display of support: “Do you like Jeremy Corbyn? You know he’s a vegetarian, and he hates the monarchy, as we all do. And he doesn’t believe in wars. So they’re going to assassinate him.”
Particularly impressive was Morrissey’s multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur, who seemed to hop between instruments from one song to the next. While he provided some of the more interesting textures, a strange interlude repeating a chorus in Spanish came across as an unnecessary gimmick rather than a tangible part of the set.
Gimmicks also extended to the merchandise table, where £15 could buy you a three-holed ‘Mozzer’ knuckle-duster. We digress. The band in general possessed a great deal more energy and interest than the frontman, who pleased mostly where he couldn’t go wrong, in being Morrissey. Proceedings often felt staged and over-rehearsed, detracting from music that is at heart both politically engaged and well-written, where he could have benefitted from a bit more stage chat and fewer songs. Even the token arrogance, “I’m quite hot really, I know that”, wasn’t said with defiance, but a boredom that comes from repetition after a long month on the road.
Although it certainly wasn’t a bad concert, especially once you get past the unspoken desire for ‘This Charming Man’, Morrissey’s performance would struggle to be called inspiring. However, a mega-fan on the very delayed train home said it was the best setlist she’d heard in the last ten shows, and the messages of institutional violence and animal cruelty were impossible to leave at the doors of the venue. So maybe we did fall prey to our yearning for a couple of songs we knew, but his message was certainly validated, even if his music wasn’t.
Tristan Gatward and Joe Stewart, Online Music Editors