Morrissey Live in 2002

Morrissey live in 2002

This is a write-up of a Morrissey gig from twenty years ago. I unearthed it during a tidy-up of old newspaper cuttings and other music-related ephemera. I remember posting it on a fan website, presumably a day or two after the show itself.

I am obviously writing with my likely audience in mind – hence the hagiographic tone, the references to relatively unfamiliar album tracks and the general lack of objectivity. As a piece of criticism, then, it has zero value. But on a personal level it is a reminder of the only time I have ever been in the front row at a gig, and it is also perhaps of some interest for the insight it gives into the mindset of a (then) fan at a significant moment in Morrissey’s career.

We are back in 2002 – very much Morrissey’s wilderness years. He had released nothing since the not particularly well received Maladjusted album five years earlier. He still toured – I was there at a one-off gig at Battersea Power Station of all places in December 1997, when he played a Smiths song live for (I think) the first time as a solo artist (not counting the one-off free gig in Wolverhampton in 1988), and I saw him again (also in London) in 1999. I was vaguely aware that he was popular in other parts of the world, particularly Mexico, but it was hard to avoid the thought that – five years on and with no record deal in sight – his career was all but over, at least in Britain. Little man, what now? indeed.

There was also the self-imposed Californian exile – inexplicable in my eyes for someone I thought of as so quintessentially English. Hence the sense of relief that permeates the ‘review’ – yes, he’s still active; yes, Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer are still with him; and yes, he still obviously relishes the spotlight. There is more than a hint of nostalgia swirling around as well – emanating not least from the great man himself.

The gig itself was at Bradford on 31 October 2002. His big comeback was to be two years later, starting with the sold-out Elvis-flavoured birthday gig at the (then) MEN Arena in Manchester. My friend and fellow Morrissey fan Eddie and I went to three shows that year – all thoroughly enjoyable, but not quite on a level with this one two years earlier. After Bradford, it was never quite as good again, though a hot and sweaty Blackpool Winter Gardens in 2004 came close. We were at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in 2006 and then at the Echo Arena in 2009 when he walked off midway through the second song and didn’t return. Neither did we. Ever.

It goes without saying that today’s Morrissey is not the inspiration I sprouted a quiff for all those years ago. I still buy his albums but that is as far as my loyalty stretches nowadays. Where once I found him delightfully cranky and contrarian, now he just strikes me as cold and cantankerous – not to mention gratuitously offensive at times. For Britain? Really? Enough said.

Morrissey, St George’s Hall, Bradford, 31 October 2002

Confession time: I’m a longtime fan of both Morrissey and Queen. Don’t try to work it out; I never have! Anyway, having watched Queen in concert more times than I care to mention, let’s just say that I’m used to being a football pitch away from the stage (literally so in 1982 and 1986). So, when I walked through the doors at Bradford, into the hall and then straight to the crash barrier, this was something new.

It was, for me, the most incredible, unforgettable experience. The pushing; the swaying; the jumping; the sweat! These were the riches for this poor lad. Conditioned over the years by common sense and then by advancing age to opt for the safe, sanitised experience, for once I could revel in the melee. Just as long as he doesn’t toss his shirt in my direction.

The chance to be so close to one’s idols. To look Alain squarely in the eye (I was to the right of the stage). To see him smile at a heckle from the crowd. To observe his guitar play. The messages he mouthed to his sound engineer. The slide he took from the mic stand and then tossed to the floor during Jack the Ripper. The foot pedals. The sweated brow. Now my heart was full.

I’ve seen the band on most tours since the Liverpool Empire in 91. To revisit Live in Dallas and a scratchy bootleg from Köln is to marvel at how much the band have both gelled and matured over the last decade or so. The leap in quality was already evident on Beethoven Was Deaf but now, as they hone their performance around the world, it is highly impressive. They appear so comfortable both on stage and with each other.

And what a joy to hear their reading of old Smiths songs. Apart from the Craig Gannon interlude (1986), these tunes never benefited from dual guitars on stage. It’s an absolute delight to hear those guitar melodies fully realised in live performance. To take just one example, I Want the One I Can’t Have came alive for me. So, I’m really pleased the lads took a bow at the end. Alain and a pleasantly portly Boz, in particular, are as much a part of ‘Morrissey’ as…well, Morrissey.

And what of the great man? My, how the between-song banter has developed over the years – along with the biceps but at the expense of the quiff, maybe. One or two remarks had me laughing aloud (“I Like You…this song is about me” – that may not be verbatim but you get the drift). And I love the subtle lyrical adaptations (“Come, pleeeze come, nuclear bomb!”) he introduces.

I also detected something new. There is evident bitterness (“Manchester bitches”) but there is also now a more openly expressed affection for the fans. You’ll protest that it was always there but, a few years ago, it might have been camouflaged by a quip (“I love you from the heart of my bottom…”) or expressed in a curt “I love you…I love you”. Now, there is less of the word-play. Now, it is up-front, full-on and heartfelt. Is there also a hint of self-parody? Is the decision to play Little Man, What Now? a gentle dig at himself as the years go by? Not to mention the inspired decision to introduce Hand in Glove to the set (“twenty years…twenty years!”). If I hadn’t downloaded the Birmingham set list, I might have expected to hear Papa Jack!

Morrissey at Bradford. The pleasure and the privilege was mine.

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