Morrissey hits the stage, the chip on his shoulder saltier than ever
Ripping off his shirt and writhing on the floor, Morrissey was taking to extremes his promise that his new tour would have “no rules, regulations or restrictions”. The great disrobing came at the end of a punchy if uneven opening concert, as he plunged into Irish Blood, English Heart – his lament for an England he no longer recognised as the eccentric underdog of his youth. Shortly beforehand he had appeared to lose his footing but rather than spring back up went with it and wriggled about on his back. Horizontal or vertical, the crowd lapped up Moz’s wonky showmanship.
Morrissey fandom has always been complicated. Much like Bob Dylan, it was never obvious whether the singer, now 63, appreciated the adoration or found it darkly amusing. And that equation has grown more complex amid accusations of far-Right sympathies (he notoriously wore a badge of the For Britain political party on American TV and has claimed Hitler was “left-wing”).
He’s also taken aim at the monarchy, comparing the late Queen to “Muammar Gaddafi” in 2011. However, while he performed material from The Smiths’s 1986 masterpiece The Queen Is Dead (including a ribald Frankly, Mr Shankly) the title track was judiciously omitted in Killarney. The closest he came to a statement about royalty was via the collection of hand-picked music videos preceding the show. Here, the Sex Pistols’s God Save the Queen was followed by an old video of Val Doonican crooning Danny Boy.
As with Irish Blood, English Heart, that juxtaposition was a nod towards his identity as the Manchester-raised son of Irish parents. Yet this was far from a hometown crowd at the 3,000-capacity venue. A mingling of Irish, English and even the occasional American accents confirmed the faithful had travelled from far and wide to see Morrissey start his tour in a tourist town in south-west Ireland.
They’d come hoping to see their tall-haired hero evoke the glory days of The Smiths. What they got was a curious quiff-hanger from a performer in fine voice but with a chip on his shoulder so conspicuous it may have required its own dressing room.
Morrissey’s persona was, from his earliest days with the Smiths, a mix of salty and sweet. He certainly got merry in Kerry, opening the show by chucking a packet of crisps into the front row and later joking about the police swooping to arrest him when he inquired whether a local record store stocked any of his LPs. Backing him was a rambunctious band, that included guitarist Alain Whyte (a co-writer with Morrissey and, improbably, Madonna and the Black Eyed Peas).
But the performative surliness that has characterised much of his post-Smiths output crept in, too. With no label willing to take a punt on his new album, Bonfire of Teenagers, a batch of recent compositions fell on unreceptive ears. It didn’t help that they often radiated an unbecoming sourness.
This was exemplified by the title track, introduced as “an account of the current condition of modern England”. In fact, it was a tasteless ballad about the Manchester Arena bombing that felt like an excuse to take a swipe at Oasis (“the morons sing and sway, Don’t Look Back At Anger”).
Morrissey’s decline as lyricist and observer of the human condition was underlined when that dirge was followed by the divine Everyday Is Like Sunday. It was pop as poetry, with a singalong melody and lyrics both specific – he evokes forlorn holiday towns forensically – and universal in their elicitation of loneliness.
As he reached the “come Armageddon” coda, the audience joined in, swept along in misanthropic ecstasy. They were also perhaps relieved that, just for a moment, their idol was sparing them another underwhelming new song.
Touring until October 14