Stephen Patrick Morrissey. At 58 years old the evocative singer has released 11 solo studio albums, not counting his tenure as the unforgettable frontman of 80’s manc juggernauts The Smiths. His brooding voice has shaped generations of youth, his undeniably honest lyrics the solvent for angst, heartbreak and awkward adolescent survival.
So, as I sat in wait at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena I was certainly prepared for a show. Known for his infallible presence and devout, rose-throwing fans, Morrissey is a cultural phenom, but one steeped in controversy. His latest album Low in High School is an unabashed, sexually charged political manifesto, a theme he certainly leaned into during his live show.
Morrissey initiated, shouting ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lasses’ before diving into the rousing, ‘I Wish You Lonely’. I was immediately struck by his voice. Age is no matter to this man and his gorgeous baritone has only grown more powerful. I can’t think of many gigs in my life that I’ve attended with the same level of vocal gusto, his voice adding layers to his self-immolating lines about loneliness.
Most of the songs from his latest album ended up sounding superior to the recording and the tracks that I hadn’t dwelled upon gained instant live credit. The melancholy ‘Home is a Question Mark’ was beautiful, each instrument realised perfectly on stage, with a moving drum refrain during the bridge. Much credit must be given to his incredibly talented band, their captivating guitar solos and keyboard mastery always piquing my attention.
Morrissey moved on, his ad-libs and extras, jeers and shouts adding power to each song, even those I hadn’t liked when I first spun the album. The spotlight shone bright on Moz, cementing his status as a live sensation. Alas, the giant screen behind him was one of the nights most interesting additions. Whilst static for some songs, the screen was often used to send powerful messages to the crowd.
Morrissey’s message became the star
During ‘Who Will Protect Us From The Police’, a plethora of police brutality featured, driving home his very prescient point. As footage from the Catalan referendum played Morrissey’s message became the star. The arresting content put to music was surprisingly effective, leaving me contemplative and melancholy about the world’s state of affairs, which could be seen as the modus operandi of his latest album. In that regard, the show certainly helped the album achieve its goal.
‘The Bullfighter Dies’ was veiled in trademark Morrissey humour, with footage of Matador’s being mauled appearing behind him as he celebrated their demise. Another shining performance was ‘Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage’, a veiled attack on Britain (Union Jack/Jacky)’s egotistical self-obsession and nationalism, ending with “everybody’s heading for the exit, exit”, yet Morrissey foregoes the tongue-in-cheek fog live, adding letters B and R to the refrain. An image stuck in my head was his virulent point to the crowd as he proclaimed, “since she lost you”.
Despite this ‘How Soon is Now’ was certainly the most prolific performance of the evening, the infinite tremolo rousing me to stand and belt out the lyrics. I was the only person in my seated block, who chose to sit oddly still throughout the night. Morrissey curled into a ball as his most popular song played out beautifully, groaning as the drums pounded and the guitar started to wane. It made me wonder about the mostly placid crowd’s intentions. Do they want a stage show or a talented artist? For me, Morrissey was more than curious spectacle, a magnificent, honest act begging to be engaged with.