Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Morrissey live @ Manchester Apollo, Saturday 6th May 2006

and I was there! Sorry i didn't post a review earlier.
After spending all day wandering around Manchester and Salford with friends (including the obligatory photo at Salford Lads Club and a couple of pre-gig drinks at The Star and Garter) we went to the Apollo at about 9pm. I was knackered and my body felt like jelly before the show had even begun. We were in the stalls, we started out somewhere in the middle but slowly migrated towards the stage. We caught the end of one of the support bands' sets (Sons and Daughters) and then some music played on the PA, including "You'll Never Walk Alone" which was met with a mix of cheering/singing-along and booing from the audience - mostly booing - I wondered why so many people booed it, until after the gig when I remembered that it is the song of Liverpool FC supporters. The cheering and (mostly) booing was reaching a crescendo when Morrissey emerged onto the stage, to be met by cheering, screaming and applause - no booing now, for sure! Me and the girl next to me screamed, "Oh my God, he's fucking gorgeous!" repeatedly when he came onstage. Years of a healthy vegetarian diet and avoidance of the usual rock 'n' roll lifestyle excesses (snorting cocaine off a groupie's nipples or whatever it is that rock stars do) have paid off. At 46 - almost 47 - he's looking better than some stars his age, and naturally too: no cosmetic surgery, dental surgery, botox, sunglasses, etc. here. Cool quiff, too.
First track "First Of The Gang To Die" was as much a lively, euphoric and romantic anthem as ever, and a great song to get things going with. It's one of the songs that made me a fan of him in the first place: I remember the first time i heard it, I thought it was a lovely, catchy song, and didn't really fit with all this "he's-so-depressing" rubbish that I'd heard people saying. Another thing I always liked about this song was the way that it was swooningly romantic, yet not soppy. Around every corner, there is a surprise. Let's face it, with most songs in the world of rock and pop, you can predict what's going to happen next - "love" rhyming with "above" (e.g. "I am in love, you're an angel sent from above"-type drippiness) and "together" rhyming with "forever" are typical staples. Plus, the majority of songs are always love songs. So the first time I heard "First Of The Gang...", when I heard a line starting "You have never been in love until you've seen the stars..." I thought that the line would end up something like "You have never been in love until you've seen the stars reflect in your lover's eyes." Instead, the line was: "You have never been in love until you've seen the stars reflect in the reservoirs." That was unusual and unexpected (how many songs out there feature reservoirs? not many!) and made me pay attention and think, Hmm, this bloke's interesting and different. Anyway, back to the gig, and here was a great rendition of a modern classic, with seemingly everyone in the audience singing along joyfully.
Next up was a song from his earliest days with The Smiths: "Still Ill." This has always been an aching, punchy-yet-beautiful song that carries a lot of emotion, and tonight's performance did not fail to delight. Some fans even felt that that performance was so powerful, it was more emotional than the rest of the set put together. Again, romantic and nostalgic without being soppy.
The first song from new album Ringleader of the Tormentors to be played that night was the first single, "You Have Killed Me," a steady, solid rock number, which sounds great with lots of people singing along to it. The next ROTT song to be played - and also its next single - was "The Youngest Was The Most Loved," the story of a boy who "grew up to be a killer" with catchy (if slightly disturbing) hooks (a children's choir sings "There is no such thing in life as normal!" during the chorus on the album) and a strong musical backdrop (I particularly like the wailing klaxon-like sounds at the start - is it a police car taking the killer away?). This new song managed to lift off the roof of the Apollo as much as the classics did.
"I Will See You In Far-Off Places," another new song, was again magnificent and got a good response out of the crowd. Live, the exotic, Arabian-sounding riff became hard rock and the drums pounded a powerful pulse through the air and floor. Although a serious song concerning mortality (is it that of a travelling friend/lover, or of middle-eastern strangers in a war zone, or even Osama Bin Laden?), it displays Morrissey's dark sense of humour in lines such as, "If your god bestows protection upon you, and if the USA doesn't bomb you, I believe I will see you somewhere safe, looking to a camera, messing around and pulling faces." The sight and sound of him when he stood on top of a monitor for the line "and if the USA doesn't bomb you" was great - determined and strong - and so was the response from the crowd.
"My Life Is A Succession Of People Saying Goodbye," a slow and beautiful B-side from the You Are The Quarry era, also showed his dark humour as he cheekily changed the words to "My life is a succession of people saying go away!" Then the familiar chug of The Smiths' classic "Girlfriend in a Coma" blared through the amps, and, funnily enough, a stoned girl in the audience fell unconscious and had to be carted away.
A hat-trick of ROTT tracks followed, all sounding magnificent: "On The Streets I Ran," sounding even better than on the record; "At Last I Am Born" was powerful, punchy, joyous and majestic; and the beautiful, rain-strewn, evolving epic "Life Is A Pigsty" (better than its title suggests).
1997 album Maladjusted may have had a few critical maulings and didn't do well commercially, but its beautifully-sung, unconventional and witty ballad "Trouble Loves Me" was greeted with a very warm welcome in the Apollo: those fans in the know sang every word from the bottom of their hearts. If you don't know this song, the title of both the song and the album it's from will give you a pretty good indication of its lyrical content, while its musical content is simple but timeless.
Another ballad followed: "To Me You Are A Work Of Art," Ringleader's harder-rocking equivalent of Quarry's "Let Me Kiss You." New song "Ganglord" was introduced: despite it being a beautiful song, there was a bit of a lull in the crowd, as it hasn't even been released yet (it will be a B-side on the next single) - few people knew the words, so the amount of singing-along dipped dramatically. Then he sang a cover of punk band Magazine's "A Song From Under The Floorboards" - Mozzified, of course: his bittersweet moods and reputation for feeling alienation fit in perfectly with this '70s angst anthem - very good but again not everyone knew the words. The last ROTT song of the night, "I Just Want To See The Boy Happy," was sweet and got a decent reception.
The set at this point had some obscure songs that few people knew, and not much in the way of big hits. While there was nothing wrong with the performances of Morrissey or his band of Tormentors, there were people in the audience growing restless and chattering. All that was about to change, however...
The blistering, funky intro to "How Soon Is Now?" started, everybody leaped up screaming and oh-my-god-ing, and the atmosphere instantly changed from lukewarm to absolutely sizzling. Moz and co were on top form, giving us one of the best live versions of The Smiths' classic. The original studio version used masses of layered guitars and was near impossible to recreate live - even genius guitarist Johnny Marr would struggle with it. The Tormentors' version wasn't the same, but it was bloody brilliant in its own way. It sparked electrical excitement all around, with everyone singing those award-winning (well, almost) lyrics of shyness, loneliness and impatience in unision with Morrissey's distinctive falsettos. It was absolutely brilliant, and I was so excited to hear one of my favourite songs of all time live. The show was reaching another peak. I sneaked between people until I got much closer to the stage. It's good to be short. There he was, just a couple of metres away! And everyone in front of me seemed to be taller than me and I could barely see! It's bad to be short. Something had to be done, something i had seen on TV, something I had been itching to do for ages. I tapped a tall guy next to me on the shoulder and asked him to help me crowdsurf. He put his hands out, low down, and i stepped on them and he lifted me up. I was above the crowd, floating on top of rows of people, hands powering me towards God. Somehow I was flipped over onto my back, and I caught a glimpse of the audience behind me and the ceiling above me, before being flipped onto my front again. I was right at the front of the crowd. There he was, in front of me, just to my left... and there, directly in front of me, was a security guard, gesturing to another. They pulled me off the audience, my wonderful, helpful sea of people, and pulled me over the barrier into the pit. They walked me away, past Morrissey (I tried to blow him a kiss as we went past) and back into the crowd via a door in the barrier. As I was frogmarched past him, he was near the edge of the stage and the rest of the band were further back, so from where I was it looked like he was the only one on the stage. He towered above me, high quiff and light blue shirt, singing those words that had once changed my life one wintery day, during sixth form in a humdrum seaside town. The crowdsurfing techniques I had learnt from telly and gigs and clubs had been finally put into practice. I hadn't managed to shake his hand or anything, but I had got close, and I've learnt for future tries.
Back in the mosh, and I was still near the front but unable to see a lot. The crowd at the front was much denser than further back where I had started off. The song ended and he briefly went offstage to prepare for the encore. During this short break, the crowd chanted two modified football chants: "Morrissey" to the tune of "'Ere We Go" and "Steven" to the tune of "England." He returned in a red shirt (the third of the evening - he started out in a dark blue one, then changed into a pale blue one which was fed to the hungry audience) and the tense guitar riff intro of "Irish Blood, English Heart" started up. Again, this classic anthem fired up the audience into frenzy, heightened by him taking off his shirt and throwing it into the audience. It landed near me, and I was dragged right into the heart of the struggle for it by the sheer force of people all around me darting towards it all at the same time. I decided to go for it as I was there already, and managed to grab a hold of it. So did loads of other people. Despite the sheer number of folk all tugging at his shirt, it didn't rip easily.
I was touching Morrissey's shirt! It had been on him! It was the modern musical equivalent of the Turin Shroud! It smellt so damn good! (Mmm, the advantages of fame and fortune, being able to afford quality clothes and aftershaves/colognes...) A bit of a tussle with a couple of other fans who managed to tear off a large portion and were trying to divide it up between themselves resulted in me managing to tear out some thread for myself. The venue's security guards were chasing people away and breaking up shirt-struggles (Afterwards I heard rumours of the guards trying to stop fans making off with shirt bits... Why? Unless the guards are fans, what would they want with them? Sell them on eBay to supplement their wages? I mean the fans are hardly stealing or anything, Moz gave that shirt to us, it was his and he chooses what to do with it, that's his decision not that of the guards! With my rudimentary knowledge of Property Law, I know that if you have property rights to something, you can do whatever you like with that property, you can destroy it if you want. Therefore Moz can throw it to us to tear it apart if he wants!) so I sneaked off and slowly made my way to the cloakroom to claim my stuff back. I looked around for the nice people I'd come with. My glasses had been really badly damaged: I noticed after my crowdsurf that they had been bent a little but still wearable, but it was the shirt incident, particularly the bit where I was dragged into the circle of people around the shirt like a black hole, that had totally twisted my glasses. They were wonky and at a weird angle, not fitting properly at all. It was difficult to see with them and I ended up taking them off a lot as they were nearly useless. I kept my little bit of Morrissey's shirt-thread clenched tight in my left hand, never letting it go, not even for a moment. I'd fought hard for it, and i wasn't about to let go of it! One day i can bore my grandchildren with tales of how I fought in two shirt wars to secure this piece of thread. I wandered around in a daze in the cloakroom queue, occasionally telling people in a starstruck voice, "I caught Morrissey's shirt, I did..."
I got my stuff and met Grim outside. He's a gig veteran and a bit of a legend in the Moz fan community. He called me a star and seemed proud of my crowdsurfing and shirt-stealing attempts, even though he was disappointed with the setlist. I didn't mind the setlist too much, it was the first time I'd seen Our Steven live and I was seriously impressed. We wandered among the T-shirt sellers and exiting fans, and had a peek round the back of the Apollo, meeting bassist Gary Day! :D I was dumbstruck but Grim said hello like they met all the time (they probably did as well). We bought some (probably fake) merch outside (I got a couple of T-shirts to add to my rapidly expanding collection), met loads of people (Grim seems to know everybody!) and got in a taxi. I was invited to a Smiths/Moz disco at The Firehouse but declined because of my glasses: If i didn't wear them, I got headaches from eye strain, but if I did wear them, I got headaches from eye strain too as I couldn't see properly through them.
Finally crashed into bed at a 24/7 youth hostel late that night. I had experienced so much in less than 24 hours! I'd been all around Manchester and to SLC (and scratched a little bit of paint from the famous front door as a souvenir... shhh... well, I've unfortunately lost that paint now, so I guess that means there's no evidence against me now...) and met a fan from LA who looked spookily like Morrissey (people were queueing up to have their photos taken with him, he was very obliging with them) and been to see the real Moz... Wow. The next day was like a bad hangover as I had headaches from tiredness and eye-strain, but at least the plane trip home wasn't too long (just under 1 hour) and then I went to CinSoc with some mates to see "Walk The Line," which was good. On Monday I got my glasses fixed (more or less bent back into their original shape, although they are weak from damage and could break, so i'm going to get some new ones... they're bloody expensive cos i need special lenses... :( not good as i'm severely skint now!) and now i'm struggling to revise for my exams, which start in 11 days. Aaarrrggghhh!!!

6 Comments:

Blogger Morrissey said...

VIVA MORRISSEY! WHEN IS HE COMING TO NEW YORK CITY!??!?!?

8:23 pm  
Blogger Cool Noise said...

God, I miss Manchester.

Hey Helfire, thanks for your comment back in Jan when I was moving down South. I got your blog in my 'blogs I read' list.

10:47 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

So how does it feel to have seen him live then? From your review it sounds like you were a touch disappointed with some of the set, but that the whole experience was worth the effort. Close to the mark?

I was supposed to be seeing him at Birmingham next weekend, but SeeTickets mucked up with my tickets (grr!) so I won't be there. I have seen him a couple of times though, and he was fantastic -- the best was in the Blackpool Empress Ballroom. Ah. Happy memories.

Glad you had fun (and being similarly short-sighted and dependent upon my specs - I feel your pain!)

ST

10:20 am  
Blogger Hel Fire said...

SwissToni said...
So how does it feel to have seen him live then? From your review it sounds like you were a touch disappointed with some of the set, but that the whole experience was worth the effort. Close to the mark?

Yep, that's about it. To be honest i needed a lull in the set as i was knackered, but i didn't like the way that it made half the audience chatter amongst themselves... Still, I'm really glad i went, and i'll be going to see him again and again in future!

10:26 am  
Blogger SwissToni said...

he's a handsome devil, no?

I have to say though, I'm not totally convinced by "Ringleader...." either. I know it got ecstatic reviews, but that's often the case the album after the good album that the critics savaged. It certainly has some good stuff on it, but.... hm.

I was wrong about "You Are The Quarry" though after judging it too hastily. It's also certainly a whole lot better than my first impressions of "maladjusted". I think hearing "Roy's Keane" for the first time may be my all time Morrissey low.

I still like "Southpaw Grammar" though.

... but now I'm rambling.

ST

11:40 pm  
Blogger Mark said...

It must be interesting to see him for the first time now, because having seen him many times, over many years, the impetuousness of youth has jaded me, and now I see it differently. I didn't think Reading was all *that* really.

Oh, and Mister Swiss sent me.

12:16 am  

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