Morrissey, is undeniably an artist that so many people have a love hate relationship with. Animal protectionist, monarchical abolitionist, he has always used his music as a platform for promoting his frank, outspoken views. His show at Odyssey Arena was no different. Still retaining his harsh veneer throughout some thirty years in music, you cannot fault his perseverance in upholding his principles. If you came to his show solely for a musical experience, then you were in for a perhaps, dampening surprise.
Canadian folk singer and Native American rights activist Buffy Sainte-Marie, was the support act of the evening. Before even entering the stage she kicked the night off with an extensive offering of spoken word. Vaguely Patti Smith-esque, this unconventional opening set the precedent for a night that was to be filled with unconventionalities. Entering the stage with boundless energy, you wouldn’t for a second believe that Buffy Sainte-Marie is in fact seventy-four years old. Wasting no time she greeted the audience with enthusiasm and jumped right into the first song ‘It’s My Way’. Accompanied with folk-infused guitar, this song is off her 1964 album of the same name. With the lyrics of ‘I’ve got my own life, I’ve got my own strife’ the sense of the long, independent rise in music that Buffy Sainte-Marie has made since the 1960’s is conveyed strongly.
Explaining how she got an academy award back in 1983 for the infamous ‘Up Where We Belong’ this led into performing the highly emotive power ballad, just three songs in. With one member of the audience feebly waving a lighter from side to side, there was a palpable sense that it was much too early in the evening for this song to be performed. Perhaps better reserved to the end it rendered her set slightly erratic. Asking the audience the question of “What do you think about the power in your DNA?” and jumping straight into a fast-paced song off her newest album, ‘Power In Your Blood’, it had an extremely jarring effect with the power ballad we were just minutes ago subjected to. Her politically infused set of songs all felt mawkishly benevolent in attempting to rally the audience into the various vague causes that may as well have been simply condensed down to world peace. Describing how her final song ‘Starwalker’ is for all the generations passed, all future generations and also, for “all the pets”, she gives us a roundabout way of explaining that her music is for everyone. Yet, I’m not so sure.
Overall, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s enthusiastic folk music, was a choice of support that was jarring with the musical tastes you could expect of a crowd of Morrissey fans. Yet it felt as though challenging the audience expectations of what is in store at a concert was one of Morrissey’s aims as the night went on. During the interval, exposed to a bricolage of cultural video clips that included music videos, Spanish dancing, tv clips, and a reading of Anne Sexton’s poem “Wanting to Die”, the audience was increasingly left unsure of the artist’s motives. Yet eventually, after tirelessly trawling through a seemingly endless list of clips, the screen falls and operatic music ensues with a meme-esque picture of Queen Elizabeth flipping the audience off. After being exposed to this slightly uneasy opening, the eagerly awaited Morrissey enters the stage with his band mates, pays homage to Louis MacNeice, utters a hello and the immediately recognisable drum driven opening of ‘The Queen Is Dead’ begins. The screen changes to a picture of Will and Kate with the words “United King Dumb” and the fact that this concert will be rendered a political polemic, whether the audience likes it or not, becomes evident.
Despite being some thirty years on from when he began his career in music, Morrissey’s smooth baritone vocals that make him so distinguished as an artist remain unchanged, surprisingly they could even be argued to have improved throughout the years. Providing some repose from the politically driven ‘The Queen Is Dead’ next is his debut single as a solo artist, ‘Suedehead’. The emotionally fuelled chorus of “I’m so sorry!” is infectious in beckoning the audience to sing along. The Smiths were well known for the quirk of swinging bunches of flowers around, and even handing them out to the audience at gigs. Morrissey opted simply to swing his microphone lead around excessively throughout the show as flowers appeared absent. Members of the audience however, engaged in this quirk swinging their own and throwing them on stage in homage to The Smiths.
After performing a handful of his older songs, he performed some of his new songs from his latest album ‘World Peace Is None of Your Business’. Performing the fast-paced ‘Kiss Me A Lot’ he reveals this will be his latest single and that we should buy it if we are feeling “benevolent”. But the song that gets the biggest reaction is ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’. It is ironic to witness an audience stirred and energised by the melancholic, lamenting chorus of “Everyday is Like Sunday” however celebrating broody lyrics might be a quirk exclusive to Morrissey fans. Indeed, had it been ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ it would have garnered a similar celebratory reaction.
Playing a diverse mix of his musical catalogue, and even throwing in The Smiths’ hit ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ the show had seemingly steered away from the realms of making a political statement but this could only go on for so long. As a strong advocate of animal rights and having, in the past, subjected his audience to grotesque videos of animal slaughter, the audience was at least braced for what was to come. Asking the audience to purchase a stencil promoting animal rights in order “to blanket Belfast in something beautiful, not for us, but for them” the eyes of the audience are diverted toward the dreaded video along with which the lament of ‘Meat Is Murder’ is performed. As Morrissey reaches out towards the screen in an overly dramatic way, the show feels transformed into a theatrical piece on animal rights especially with the addition of a gong echoing threateningly and repeatedly throughout the arena.
It would be untrue to say that the video didn’t put a dampner on the evening, but what becomes clear as the show comes to a close, is that Morrissey didn’t perform with the ambition of ensuring his audience enjoyed it, it was performed with a goal of provoking his audience and trying to alter opinion on animal rights. It is only through coming face to face with what makes people uncomfortable, that Morrissey could attempt to alter the opinions of his audience. However, did the majority of people leave the venue as vegans and vegetarians? Not likely. He closed the show with an energetic performance of ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ which despite the previous harrowing video, didn’t detract the audience from engaging with and singing along. Yet you left the venue still feeling slightly uncomfortable, and that was certainly the intention.