Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Morrissey, Brixton Academy, 19.08.09

Ah, Brixton, how cynical I was. After cancelled dates ('production reasons') in Italy just days previously, I was sceptical even as I made my way into the palatial Academy main room. I was still allowing room for doubt as the support hit the stage. Ultimately, though, I was wrong.

Support act Doll and the Kicks were entertaining, as far as it's possible to be when suffering the obligatory support act muddy sound quality. Pouting and pirouetting flirtatiously across the stage, frontwoman Doll certainly makes for an pleasantly diverting stage, and her seemingly strong vocals deserve more exposure than they receive tonight.

As one punter's t-shirt reads, however: 'It's Morrissey's town - we just live in it.' Indeed. The venue's not even selling meat at its one lonely food stall, lest the slightest whiff of scorched animal wafts across the vast arch of the ceiling and upsets him. And who could expect anything less from the famously bolshy vegetarian?

Tonight is everything you'd predict. The crowd conform to the expected demographic: at least 65-70% male; mainly pushing it to see the younger side of 27; polite, though not as introverted as might be imagined. And lapping it all up, obviously.

In some ways, the setlist very much plays it safe in this respect. It must be somewhat galling still be expected to trot out songs by a band which acrimoniously dissolved over 20 years ago, but tonight features no less than six Smiths songs - nearly a third of the set.

As said, it must be galling to have this expected from you after so long, but opening with 'This Charming Man' will always prove a popular gambit. And when, just a few songs in, the classic guitar distortion of 'How Soon is Now?''s opening riff kicks in, it's hard not to be taken aback. Boz Boorer may not be Johnny Marr, but it still sounds fucking majestic: it's really that simple. Sheer, bleak, rumbling majesty.

Boorer is certainly the backbone of the band, and makes it look effortless, from the jangle of 'Ask' to the climactic encore of 'First of the Gang to Die'. It's Morrissey's vocals, swooping and soaring around and above it, though, which really cause things to take flight, particularly on newer tracks such as 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris' and 'When Last I Spoke to Carol'.

This favouring of new material over old is perhaps the sole disappointment. Yes, it's the 'Tour of Refusal', and so a focus on the Years of Refusal album is a given. Out of an 80-minute set, though, it would have been nice to hear some old Morrissey classics rather than an almost sole reliance upon the past half-decade or so. Yes, that's Morrissey classics rather than Smiths ones. I mean, 'Some Girls are Bigger than Others'? Rather than 'Everyday is Like Sunday' or 'Suedehead'? Really? When it comes to faults, this may be coming close to splitting hairs: setlist preferences are will never be anything other than subjective.

Like the crowd, Morrissey is exactly what you're expect: he flails the microphone cord around in a dramatic fashion first perfected decades back; he provides nigh-on nothing by way of between-song banter; he bows and preens incessantly, getting his chest out at the end of the show. Oh, and he doesn't disappoint.

Morrissey - I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris

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