Fans of Morrissey and The Smiths are renowned for their intense devotion. Last year’s DVD, Morrissey: 25live, showed fans in Los Angeles jumping the barriers to touch their idol – and tonight, scenes are just as manic.
Unperturbed by a hulking row of security and a vast gulf between stage and audience, a constant deluge of people take on the defences of the O2 like they’re running The Gauntlet on Gladiators. Some of them make it through to touch Morrissey’s outstretched hand, or pass him flowers; some are whisked away with a guard attached firmly to each limb. There are tears in both eventualities. One fan almost makes it onstage before being rugby tackled to the floor. Such obsession is simultaneously admirable and frightening to watch.
In this Internet age, Morrissey is the quintessential troll – yet 2014 has been a tumultuous year even by his standards. A cancelled US tour due to “acute fever” (blamed on then support act Kristeen Young), being dropped from Harvest Records and the announcement he’d been receiving cancer treatment all made headlines.
Yet tonight we find the singer on fine form. His glorious, golden baritone sounds fantastic and Smiths track ‘The Queen Is Dead’ sends everyone loopy. When he follows it with the gorgeous jangle-pop of ‘Suedehead’ from debut solo album ‘Viva Hate’, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was in a good mood.
Of course, the fact his band are all wearing “F*ck Harvest Records” T-shirts should have been warning enough. Presumably as a dig against his former label, who “deleted” his latest release ‘World Peace Is None of Your Business’ (review), Morrissey decides to play the album almost in full.
While some of the new material represents the most rejuvenated he’s sounded in years, not least due to the addition of multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur on keyboards, trumpet and Spanish guitar, there’s no way ‘I’m Not A Man’ or ‘Scandinavia’ were worth the exclusion of ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’, ‘First Of The Gang To Die’ or ‘All You Need Is Me’. Then again, ‘Staircase At The University’ is Morrissey at his bleakly humorous best, while the cheery flamenco flourish of ‘The Bullfighter Dies’ is beamed alongside particularly gory scenes of speared necks and impaled buttocks.
But tonight’s most powerful moments come when Morrissey delves into the back catalogue of his erstwhile band. ‘Meat Is Murder’ is dragged out into a wretched, brutal assault while the screens show disgusting images of farming practices. The undisputed highlight though is a stunning rendition of ‘Asleep’ where, singing while shrouded in darkness, he affords the track the subtle sadness it deserves.
Morrissey’s deliberately inflammatory remarks may have called his character into question on many occasions, and his click-bait tendencies can cause even the most ardent fan to despair. But in the four-and-a-half minutes of musical perfection that is ‘Asleep’, this man answers to nobody.
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Words: Dannii Leivers