Morrissey at Brixton Academy review: surprisingly fuss-free and formulaic
The ‘separate the art from the artist debate’ rarely rages more wildly than when discussing the music and mouth of Morrissey. Many have disowned The Smiths’ frontman despite — or perhaps because of — growing up so intimately with his music, and forming large parts of their identities around his words. For many who let go of their fandom due to the singer’s anti-immigration comments, support of far-right political parties and beyond, it hurt more than most.
Sticking with him into the 2020s has become an act of wilful ignorance or defiance then, depending on who you ask. Continued support of the singer often comes with the requirement of also engaging with his politics.
Somewhat surprisingly though, the 5,000 fans packed like sardines into Brixton Academy on Tuesday night for the penultimate gig of a UK and Irish tour, were rarely asked to engage with Morrissey’s beliefs.
Instead, they were presented with a fuss-free, impeccably performed selection of solo and Smiths hits at a gig that felt remarkable for how formulaic and simple it was, from a man who has always been anything but.
Launching straight into How Soon Is Now? with earnest and intoxicating gusto, the Brixton show felt like it came from a singer and a man who had something to prove again, whether he’d agree or not. Through renditions of First of the Gang to Die, Irish Blood, English Heart and Shoplifters of the World Unite all packed into the first half hour of the gig, he showcased a voice that has maintained its gorgeous, era-defining croon, and was backed by a trusty and impressive band.
It was only on Bonfire of Teenagers, the title track from Morrissey’s upcoming studio album, that you felt the need to take sides. “Many people are too polite and too British to talk about the subject of this next song, but I’m not,” he told the crowd before performing the track concerning the Manchester Arena bombing of 2017, which the singer has called “England’s 9/11”.
In it, he sang: “And the silly people sing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ / I can assure you I will look back in anger ’till the day I die,” lyrics which have both been praised for their power and criticised for being disrespectful to grieving families. At Brixton, it got the biggest cheer of the night.
This moment aside, Morrissey largely sidestepped the rambling rants many might have expected, in favour of a hit-packed, rapturously received gig that was excellently paced, carefully considered and proved that, should he want to, he has the voice to go on for plenty more years. While it was a show unlikely to bring naysayers back, those who have stuck around were fed well by their enduring hero.