Morrissey - Stirling Albert Halls
Let’s get this out of the way straight off: smoke-free gigs are the way forward. Hot and sweaty you may be, but at least you don’t go home stinking of fags as well. So it's hats off to the Scots for taking the plunge and kudos to the kids (and their dads) for not being all rock‘n’roll and flouting the smoking ban. England, your time is up.
Morrissey’s current tour is something of a masterstroke, wide in scope (30 dates in the UK alone) but taking in smaller provincial venues like Whitehaven’s Civic Hall and this show in the (Stirling) Albert Halls that allows both artist and audience the opportunity to commune at touching distance. With no more than maybe 800 in attendance and the merchandise stall forced outside into the evening sun, this was a chance for something a little more intimate and old-fashioned.
A stunning opening salvo of ‘First Of The Gang To Die’, ‘Still Ill’ and ‘You Have Killed Me’ promised much but some momentum was lost as the focus turned towards tracks from his recent ‘Ringleader of the Tormentors’ set. This no doubt pleased the many die-hards in attendance, happy to hear these songs for the first time but for the less committed, unfamiliarity perhaps sapped a little enthusiasm from the crowd. Throwing in tracks like ‘Reader Meet Author’ from the depths of his mid-90s period did little to lighten matters but at least ‘Life Is A Pigsty’ bears all the hallmarks of a bona fide Moz anthem.
Nevertheless, it’s hard not to feel Morrissey’s personal predilection for the obscure and long-lost b-side sabotages his ability to get the balance quite right when it comes to his own material. Even a bounce through ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ is a minor pleasure before a rip-roaring cover of the New York Dolls’ ‘Human Being’ puts things back on track towards the end of the main set. Guitarist Boz Boorer pulls out some excellent saxophone work at this point and I can't help but think what Morrissey needs is some material that stretches him: some Bowie-esque funk or Sparks-like oddity – anything instead of the mid-paced Morrissey-by-numbers he’s fallen into. He’s surrounded himself with some confident and dependable musicians but his output has become a little samey and fresh blood could bring something new to the party.
A single encore (‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ on St George’s Day) meant the party was done and dusted after Moz’s standard 75 minutes. More artists should take heed of such neatness, but a few more standards would arguably add to the old VFM.
This was Morrissey. Still loveable, funny, utterly engaging and a great British icon but as ticket prices creep over the £30 mark I wonder if he can keep reaching out beyond those with an 'Queen Is Dead' t-shirt lurking in the bottom drawer, without preparing to acknowledge the breadth and depth of his past.
Setlist: First Of The Gang To Die / Still Ill / You Have Killed Me / The Youngest Was The Most Loved / I Will See You In Far-off Places / Reader Meet Author / To Me You Are A Work Of Art / My Life Is A Succession Of People Saying Goodbye / Girlfriend In A Coma / Let Me Kiss You / At Last I Am Born / Life Is A Pigsty / (Piano Intro "The Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond") Trouble Loves Me / On The Streets I Ran / Human Being / I Just Want To See The Boy Happy / How Soon Is Now? // Irish Blood, English Heart