Thursday, 8 March 2018

Moz lives

Firstly, to all those who have had their fill of Morrissey ... well, you'll want to give the following a swerve. Why not read this recent Fantasy Cover Version suggestion instead?

Morrissey opening with The Last Of The Famous International Playboys

Still here? Then let's talk about Moz and, specifically, his gig at the Royal Albert Hall last night. It was my seventh time seeing the Mozfather live and, having needed a telescope to see him last time I went (at the O2), this time I had splashed out on a good seat. I treated myself, in other words, and I'm glad I did, because being up close really made the evening. And not just for the photos (click 'em to embiggen) and videos I took, but for the details ... the looks on his face, the hand gestures. All of that. You don't get it from the back of an enormodome, even with Jumbotrons to help. But anyway. After a quick perusal of the merchandise stall (offering scarves, fans, badges and pillowcases as well as the obligatory t-shirts, none of which featured contemporary photographs of Moz), I took my seat early and, if I'm honest, with a little trepidation. Reviews of earlier shows on the tour had been mixed, with The Guardian very much determined not to enjoy themselves. Also, I'm often a little unsure how gigs in all-seater venues will play out - the atmosphere is different, I think. Less of a spark. And I was concerned that, although my ticket clearly said "Morrissey plus special guests", I had read that the support act was a film show, not a band... At precisely 8.15pm the pre-show back-drop picture of the late Peter Wyngarde as Jason King disappeared, and the film show started.

Morrissey with beads

To be honest, "film show" is over stating it a bit. YouTube clips spliced together is more accurate. But it was an eclectic selection - with links to the clips used where possible, the montage included: early Ramones; Something Here In My Heart by 60s girl group The Paper Dolls; Tatu covering How Soon Is Now? on a German retread of TOTP; The Sound Of The Crowd by The Human League; Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud by James Brown; a spoken word Candy Darling clip (I think); Dionne Warwick singing Don't Make Me Over; a drag artist joking about nationality; The Sex Pistols singing God Save The Queen; a 60s-looking civil rights speech for racial equality that I couldn't ID; Sally's Song by Amy Lee; a Germaine Greer talking head spot; a clip from L'Insoumis of Alain Delon reclining into his Queen Is Dead sleeve art pose (which got a big cheer); It's The Same Old Song by The Four Tops; Jet Boy by The New York Dolls ... and probably more besides. Throughout this, the bloke sitting next to me kept looking up the songs on Shazam - when he couldn't get a match for the James Brown track, I had to lean over and help him out. He even Shazam'ed the Sex Pistols clip, surely one of the least ambiguous tracks of the last fifty years. But I digress.

At precisely 8.50pm the screen that all this had been projected on was whipped down, and out strode Morrissey and his band. He cuts a substantial figure these days, does Moz - not fat but no longer the skinny, callow figure of yesteryear. Middle-aged spread comes to us all if you we eat too many pies, even vegetarian pies. And the fabled quiff is largely a thing of the past, a victim of a receding hairline. But he is still magnetic on stage, owning the space. Dressed top to toe in dark clothes, a string of beads and a dangling key fob completed Morrissey's look. The band, by contrast, were all in white shirts. The stage was lit with neon prefect badge shapes, a nod to the Low In High School theme.

Red Morrissey for Jack The Ripper

After opening strongly with The Last Of The Famous International Playboys and I Wish You Lonely, the audience was treated to the first of many asides from a pleasantly chatty Moz: "So amazingly, I'm still alive. The question is, are you?" This was followed by Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage, which slowed things down a bit, before a stomping Suedehead, which sped them back up again. The crowd, predictably, went wild for this, even though many of them weren't alive when it was released.

After this, there was a bit of a pause whilst Moz dispensed with the line of security at the front of the stage who were spoiling the devoted's view, and complained to unseen crew member Max about a spotlight giving him a headache. When it was turned off, he remarked, "Now you can't see me, which is pretty perfect." This was followed by recent album track When You Open Your Legs, before another aside between songs: a propos of nothing, Moz appeared to say something like, "Please believe me, I'm not. People are extremely ignorant. They can't be controlled, so don't control them." Was this a reference to Der Spiegel's recent portrayal of him? We may never know.

Slightly unexpectedly, for me at least, Munich Air Disaster 1958 was next, complete with archive footage of Busby's Babes projected on the back screen. "We miss them," Moz concluded. This was swiftly followed by Home Is A Question Mark, for which Jesse Tobias unleashed an electric 12-string and I got a sudden bout of guitarist's envy. After My Love, I'd Do Anything For You, the stage lighting switched to red and yellow as a clue for what was coming next. "This song is delightful," said Moz. "About slavery and servitude in Espana." After which the band launched into The Bullfighter Dies, accompanied by fairly explicit video footage of bulls being stabbed by matadors (during the verses) and matadors being gored (during the "hooray, hooray" chorus). The point was well, if graphically, made.

A clean shirt for the encore. Also pictured: Boz Boorer, Mando Lopez, Jesse Tobias

The only real lull in the show followed, with a slightly flat run-through of If You Don't Like Me, Don't Look At Me. Quite a lot of people went for drinks. Not me though. So I was there to see the cover of Pretenders' track Back On The Chain Gang that followed (backdropped with Chrissie Hynde's yearbook photo), and Moz introducing World Peace Is None Of Your Business by saying, "We invented democracy. We invented free speech. I think it's time we got it back."

The next track was a personal favourite, Hold On To Your Friends, at the end of which (slightly bizarrely) Moz signed some vinyl for people in the front row, whilst the crowd chanted his name. Then pianist Gustavo Manzur teased an elongated version of the piano intro to In Your Lap before the band launched into Everyday Is Like Sunday and the crowd combusted. This was the first in a run of five blistering songs: Jack The Ripper was next, with the stage bathed in red light and smoke; then came recent single Spent The Day In Bed, quite a singalong for the crowd; this was followed by live favourite Speedway, which has lost none of its power; and then, the only Smiths track of the night, How Soon Is Now?, ending with drummer Matthew Ira Walker letting loose on the gong and timpani.

This might have been the obvious point at which to end the main set, but no. Who Will Protect Us From The Police? and I'm Not Sorry followed, before the band lined up to take a bow. Then they slipped off-stage, only to return minutes later, for Morrissey to say goodnight with "As always, be good to yourself, be kind to animals and look after each other. And that's it really." Moz had changed his shirt, donning a plain white number that, predictably enough, was thrown into the crowd at the end of the sole encore track, a thumping Irish Blood, English Heart. As the band scooted off-stage, Jesse launched a plectrum into the crowd too, but not many noticed - they were too busy forming a polite but determined scrum around the shirt.

And then the house lights came up and it was all over. I have to tell you, I felt ecstatic. As I've already said, sitting so close to the action made a real difference and changed, for me, what might have just been Morrissey singing into Morrissey performing. And although I'd taken my proper camera, rather than rely on my phone, I came away feeling I wanted an actual souvenir, a keepsake more substantial than digital photographs ... so I bought a set of Moz lapel badges from the merch stall on the way out. As I trudged through a dark Hyde Park to Lancaster Gate tube, I reflected that this was, if not the best I had seen Moz, certainly in the top three. All that was missing, for me at least, was the company of oldest friend and perennial gig-buddy The Man Of Cheese, with whom I had seen five of the previous six Moz gigs. I was still buzzing when I finally got home and crawled into bed, at ten to two this morning. And I'm very happy to report that, despite all the slings and arrows he's faced (and invited) in recent times, Moz lives ...

I'm no cameraman, and my camera is nothing special, but I shot a few videos. You may like them.

Morrissey Setlist Royal Albert Hall, London, England 2018, Low in High School

20 comments:

  1. Excellent review! Glad you had a great night :)

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    1. Thank you! And yes, it was outstanding.

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  2. Great review Martin. Sounds like you had a fine evening.

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    1. Cheers. And yes - you know that feeling when a gig leaves you feeling elevated?

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  3. Fabulous review, your enthusiasm is infectious, I could feel it as I read your words, and love all those remembered details. Love the red and black photo especially. Just played your clip of How Soon Is Now and isn't he in fine voice? Actually gave me goosebumps and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe I just caught a little bit of buzz off you!

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    1. All the remembered details ... may have to confess that I scrawled some shorthand notes on an old sheet of A4 that I found in my jacket pocket. Must have had this post in mind.

      Think the red and black photo may just be the best gig photo I've ever taken. A fortunate combination of lots of red lights, smoke and Moz standing still for a moment. And luck!

      Yes, definitely in fine voice. Just one spot in the middle of Hold On To Your Friends when a moment of roughness crept in, but otherwise A-1.

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  4. The Man of Cheese9 March 2018 at 22:10

    Looks quality Mr P,hopefully I will be there for the next one.
    Never noticed this before but Mozza reminds me of John Le Mesurier in your clips. I think I'm losing the plot!

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    1. He does, doesn't he, increasingly so with age. I've got another pic where it's even more striking.

      Looking forward to the next one. Until then, there's Mexrrissey to come!

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  5. To The Man of Cheese - I have long thought that about Mozza and JLM! Definitely a likeness there, especially now he's getting older. I mentioned this to a friend of mine some years back and he morphed them into one with Photoshop, not that he had to do that much tweaking. I just wish I still had the pic!

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    1. With your Photoshop skills, C, I'm sure you could recreate this...

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  6. The Man of Cheese10 March 2018 at 09:50

    I'd love to see it C. Do it!! I think s we should tweet him and request him to open his next gig in the Home Guard uniform...

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  7. The Man of Cheese11 March 2018 at 22:46

    ☺ excellent!!!!

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  8. Great review, Martin. This is the first Moz tour I've missed since the mid-90s, but finances are curtailing such things at the moment. Good to hear he's still on top form though.

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  9. This was a great review - With the film clips it's as if we were there.

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  10. The girl group were the paper dolls , lovely review

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