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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
Arsenal

MORRISSEY
The Roundhouse, Camden Town, London, January 22nd 2008

There was always going to be dissension, but it wasn’t helped by the chaos of our journey through a North London gridlocked by fans of the locale’s two finest soccer teams heading for a cup-tie at Highbury (sorry, the Emirates Stadium), or by Jozzer’s even later arrival from ‘lunch’.

But mix together one youthful Smiths fan, three old cynics, and the miserable Mancunian misanthrope – aka Morrissey – then you can only expect fireworks. “You can’t tarnish Smiths’ songs just because you don’t like Morrissey - and anyway do you think he cares what a moron like you thinks?”. Hmm – fair point I suppose.
It’s the Roundhouse, and it’s night number two of a week-long residency for Morrissey and his band, led by ‘musical director’ and song writing partner, the weighty Boz Boorer. The place is packed – in fact the whole week is sold out, and sad to say for many people Moz (as I understand he’s known to his familiars) didn’t actually make it through the week – packing in early on night four due to illness and cancelling the remaining gig. So we’re luckily installed next to the sound desk, the youthful fan disappearing into the mosh, Jozzer surrounded by chattering girls (“I’ve never been to a concert where I’ve had to spend the whole evening listening to people talking, apart from myself that is”). In from of me is small bald bloke, mid forties I would think, who is word-perfect as he sings along with every song. To his left is a tonsured man of indeterminate age in loose black trousers and a black T-shirt. This guy is in an advanced state of enthusiasm from the moment the band take the stage and break into Morrissey’s ‘The last of the famous international playboys’, followed by The Smiths’ ‘How soon is now’ (that’s the one with the great sliding guitar line). When, about half way through, they play The Smiths’ ‘Stretch out and wait’ he shakes gently, clasps his hands to his chest and raises his eyes to the wonderful Roundhouse roof as if in a state of religious ecstasy, which I think he is. The girls are giggling and taking photographs of each other – “oooh, this one’s my favourite too” squeals one. Jozzer raises his heavy eyebrows and mouths “What a wanker”. Yep – here’s a guy who certainly polarises opinion.
He’s a big ugly fellow, as he’d be the first to admit – “I suppose I’m only here because of my good looks” he quips to the adorers at the front, with whom he maintains a respectful banter all evening, delicately taking a gift from one and gently laying it down by the drums, foolishly giving the microphone to another – “Morrissey – you are my drug of choice” she says. In between he shares random thoughts “We’ve got a new album, one more to wear your life down with” - “Every song a dose of syrup of figs” – and even chooses to scorn Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and praise her opponent Barack Obama.
But despite this apparent intimacy he remains somehow aloof and in control – and there’s a sense that he’s just on the edge, which is where all great performers should be. That is probably what gives him the presence that allows him to command the stage, and the audience. He’s got the haircut, he’s got the voice (well mostly, not too many high notes but it’s strong and commanding) and he’s certainly got all the Morrissey rock star moves. He’s cool, and he knows it.
Jozzer snarls. “It’s one bloody Morrissey song to the tune of another”. And here he may have a point – there is a certain sameness about everything. It’s partly the structure of the songs – conversational, anecdotal, and often in the third person. And whilst I’ve been told that the ‘miserable’ accusation “isn’t fair - it’s just ironic for God’s sake – don’t you understand irony?”, there is a fair degree of compulsive self-obsessed and rather gloomy meanderings in the lyrics. And of course Mr Morrissey does have the habit of starting to sing each song exactly in the same place, which is never quite when you expect him to, until that is you’ve heard a few, after which the unexpected becomes a tad predictable. And I’m not sure that Boz and the boys in the band help (despite their very smart matching t-shirts) – they’re enthusiastic enough, and are surprisingly keen to make a lot of noise whenever the moment arises, but subtle they ain’t.
And as I’m reminded whenever I lock horns with the youthful Smiths fan, “It’s easy to judge Smiths’ songs the same because of Morrissey’s voice, but you should listen to Johnny Marr’s guitar because that’s where you’ll find the difference”. Quite true, and sadly Boz is no Johnny Marr, not by a long stretch. Morrissey
But nonetheless, for all this griping, it turns out to be a unexpectedly enjoyable evening – there are some not-too-bad new songs like ‘That’s how people grow up’ from his forthcoming album Greatest Hits (which I’m told, Morrissey lovers, features a picture of Morrissey’s “Arse” on the cover, with the handwritten message “Your arse an’all”), and Morrissey classics like ‘The world is full of crashing bores’ (really?) and ‘First of the gang to die’. Then there are four classy Smiths’ songs – two already mentioned and ‘Death of a disco dancer’ and ‘Stop me if you’ve heard this one before’. Oh yes – and whereas on the first evening he played the not entirely comfortable ‘The National Front disco’, tonight he ends the set with ‘Irish blood, English heart’ – an equally edgy nationalistic sentiment (“I've been dreaming of a time when to be English is not to be baneful, to be standing by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial”) – the choice a clear and pointed reference to his current litigation with the New Musical Express over allegations of racism.
And although Mr Moz might still not be first on my list of stars to have dinner with, I ended up with a warmer sentiment towards him than I began with. And then in an unexpected moment a week or so later he earns my enduring respect. Having performed ‘That’s how people grow up’ live on TV, he strode from the stage, blanked the oleaginous, obsequious and obscenely over-paid host Jonathan Ross, and escaped his slippery embrace on the way back to the dressing room. Now there’s class! - Nick Morgan



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