Gig Review: Morrissey, Salford Lowry Theatre, April 18 & Leeds Town Hall, April 20, 2006

I’ve been walking around all week with a stupid grin on my face saying “Yay! Morrissey!” repeatedly to anyone who will listen. That’s just how Morrissey gigs make me feel. This week we had the privilege and pleasure of seeing two Moz gigs in three days. They were honestly that good that if I had slightly less common sense I’d probably have phoned into work on Friday morning telling them I was having the next month off and taken off after him on tour, spending our savings to do it. Luckily for The Ledge and Morrissey fans across the country, reason prevailed.

Tuesday night was the first night of the UK tour, and Moz had chosen Salford’s Lowry Museum as the venue. We’d had a real job getting tickets as See had managed to cancel my order, resell the tickets for which I had a confirmation, and then after a couple of shouted phone calls had found me a pair of seats. I know my orginal seats were not great, but they can’t have been as bad as what we got in the end – one row from the very top of a very tall theatre. Luckily for us these places are designed for the view, so long as you don’t suffer from vertigo or nosebleeds – I get both. So we had a lovely view of the top of the Mozfather’s head. But at least we could see, I suppose. And what a show to see. Usually in a seated venue the audience, particularly if you’re cursed with sitting way back, are very quiet and unengaged with the performance. This crowd was spectacular (if you discount the asshats directly in front of us). They were on their feet from start to finish, singing along, shouting, dancing. Security by the stage did not know what to do as the crowd was ignoring the seats and thronging forward to shake Moz’s hand. It was raucous and energetic and just fantastic.

Thursday night was at the Leeds Town Hall. We only bought these tickets because we couldn’t seem to get an order through for the Apollo gig in the ticket buying carnage. Although The Ledge lived in Leeds for many years, even he had never been to a gig here and we were not sure what to expect, especially as we had “unreserved seating.” Which, at least in my experience which extends solely to Brixton Academy, means, queue up to get right on the front or see nothing. This was much better. It was a small-ish venue, probably a similar size to the Royal Court in Liverpool, and we did get a seat at the front of the balcony. The atmosphere, while friendly, was not quite so raucous where we were (it was pandemonium on the floor) mainly because security kept making everyone sit down. I wished I had brought a rope ladder so I could get down onto the floor and into the dancing, and also because such a great view of Morrissey singing his heart out, from a distance where he looked like a person and not an ant, pretty much always makes me want to rush the stage and give him a hug. I’ve never yet managed that one. I’ll remember my ladder for Bridgewater Hall in a couple of weeks.

Support both nights was from the electric intensity of Sons & Daughters. These shows made it probably a half dozen times we’ve seen them live and they rarely disappoint. I am starting to realise that even though we own both the mini-album Love the Cup and their proper debut The Repulsion Box and although I enjoy both, they don’t really have much diversity to what they do. Namely, all the songs kind of sound the same. It’s a good sound, and very good in a live environment, but it will wear thin if they don’t begin to broaden their range. They were good enough support though, they kept us entertained.

Morrissey though. What a performer! He did the same set both nights, with I believe one exception. I know he did “On the Streets I Ran” in Leeds but not in Salford but I can’t remember what it replaced. It was an unusual set in that it didn’t contain some staples of previous tours such as “November Spawned a Monster” and “Everyday Is Like Sunday.” In fact, the furthest back into his solo career he went was with a brilliant rendition of “Reader Meet Author” off Southpaw Grammar. The only other pre-Quarry solo track was “Trouble Loves Me” which was Ledge’s favourite both nights and was an absolutely stunning example of exactly how strong his voice is. My vocal highlight was probably “My Life is an Endless Succession of People Saying Goodbye” from the Lowry. It gave me goosebumps. The sound in the Lowry was perfect and showed exactly how great a singer Morrissey really is – despite dancing around the stage and whipping his microphone cord about, he was note perfect and his voice seemed more powerful than ever.

On this tour the opening trio of songs pretty much set the tone for the night(s): “First of the Gang” got us up dancing, “Still Ill” made us remember exactly what made us love Morrissey so much in the first place – and it sounded remarkable – and “You Have Killed Me” brought us up to date with why he’s remained so loved by so many for so long. As he went through the set of new classics such as “The Youngest Was the Most Loved”, “I Just Want To See the Boy Happy” and “Let Me Kiss You” as well as two other Smiths classics, “Girlfriend in a Coma” and “How Soon Is Now”, he kept us entertained, per usual, with his witty, on-stage banter. In Salford he railed against Radio 1’s pathetic idea of a playlist and Bono’s lyrical prowess. In Leeds, the Dingle family of Emmerdale was his target.

Two things, besides his lovely voice, really stood out in my mind. I know that many people have complained about him adding Smiths classics to his live set, saying it cheapened his solo career and that he could never do them justice without Marr, Rourke and Joyce behind him. I suppose those people are right in that The Smiths’ songs would be better as played by The Smiths, but I never had the opportunity to see The Smiths live (The Ledge has, but he’s an old git), and would guess at this point that I never will, and certainly were it to happen I can’t imagine Morrissey sharing a stage with Mike Joyce ever again, so it wouldn’t be that band. This is the only way I will ever hear those songs performed with any amount of authenticity and they meant and continue to mean so much to me that I will take it however I can get it. And even if the backing music isn’t exact, the voice is, and Morrissey singing those lyrics that he wrote so long ago, is priceless. The other thing is that there is no other artist anywhere in world who could cause an entire crowd to clap merely by shaking one person’s hand. Everyone in the crowd wants to be that person and everyone knows why that person is going home happy when he grants them the pleasure.

Even though I’d have written a completely different setlist for him if he’d asked me what I wanted to hear, I really enjoyed the show he delivered. While I hadn’t been 100% sure of the new album Ringleader of the Tormentors after two weeks of listening, the songs began to make sense live. It’s not a poppy album like You Are the Quarry. In fact, it’s more of a throwback to what he was doing stylistically back in the days of Viva Hate and Kill Uncle although this album does have some rather different instrumentation and production. Live it began to gel for me and I think it’s probably a grower as it is lyrically very powerful. The closing moment of “Irish Blood, English Heart,” while it didn’t send anyone out into the streets still singing like “There Is A Light” did on the last tour, was a fitting reminder of how good Morrissey’s songwriting remains and sent us off into the night dancing and gleeful that we have one more moment of Morrissey beauty yet to come on this tour.

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