Morrissey – Leeds First Direct Arena – 24th February 2018 review

Secret Meeting score: 78

by Philip Moss

After a four year break since his last full UK tour, the ringleader of the tormentors himself, Morrissey, didn’t so much slip down the Leeds’ side streets into the First Direct Arena, as bounce.

After the now standard support slot – a compilation of his favourite You Tube videos (including the usual likes of The Ramones and New York Dolls, plus the addition of Tatu’s version of How Soon Is Now? from Top Of The Pops), the curtain dropped.

Opening with a cover of Elvis’ 1962 B-side, You’ll Be Gone, there was clearly a spring in his step, as he preened and paced about the arena’s stage- his voice impeccably suited to make the king of the croon’s cover his own. But despite the whipping of his microphone lead, and the flaying of his arms, it wasn’t until the opening riff of his 1988 single, Suedehead, ripped from Jesse Tobias’ guitar that the Leeds crowd responded. And sadly, despite Moz’s best efforts, this was a theme for the night.

Since his migration from theatres to arenas, his swelling crowds – on the whole – just seem to want the hits, with the large portions of the audience stood rigid with glum faces as he tore through his hour and a half set. Not so much the Pope of Mope on the stage you might say, as a crowd full on the arena floor. His formula of building a set around new material, with a smattering of early solo career highlights, plus choice cuts from his career with The Smiths has been the case for as long as I can remember. Yes, of course – Moz, like us all, enjoys the odd stroll down memory lane, but he is a forward thinking artist, not a jukebox or a Smiths’ tribute act.

On that note, last year’s Low In High School LP, which was both critically and commercially unvalued, was played almost in full- Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage and My Love, I’d Do Anything For You sounding as freshly irradiant as anything in the set; and Matthew Walker’s booming drums provided the perfect accompaniment to Moz’s chipper gesticulations. But other than the lead single, Spent The Day In Bed, which has clearly benefitted from its spins of mainstream radio (this one did indeed, ironically, manage to briefly awaken the crowd from their irreverent slumber), the new material was wholly met with muted responses – despite it having never been easier, due to the plethora of options available for the modern music listener, to access new music for free.

Regardless, Moz was in buoyant mood, and his band, looking extremely dapper with crew cuts and muscle fit t-shirts – led by long time sidekick, Sgt. Boz Boorer – were also fighting fit, providing a powerful sounding backdrop to Moz’s frenetic performance. On recent tours, Morrissey has looked somewhat jaded – his reported ill health maybe having more of an impact than one had realised at the time – but this set clearly showed there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet!

Despite the somber audience reactions to newer material (and it must be noted that this was deservedly so for the dirge-like Who Will Protect Us From The Police?), rapturous responses were given to the pair of Smiths’ songs that made the set, including a superb version of I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish – with it’s lyric playfully changed to ‘I grabbed you by the Heinz baked beans- that’s what tradition means’. Plus, the late trio of fan favourites How Soon Is Now?, Everyday Is Like Sunday and Irish Blood, English Heart were all met with standing ovations.

Morrissey shows have always been built on crowd interaction- the relationship between artist and fan is unlike no other. But if the world’s greatest frontman on top form cannot get the partisan crowd bouncing, and he continues to remain so loyal to his newer material, he may have to turn his back on the arenas and call the theatres home again.

Not listened to Low In High School yet? Well, check out our review here.

Want to share your love/hate for Moz with us? Come say hello on social media…


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