Morrissey Live: A Preview

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Morrissey. Photo by Xavi Torrent

Despite heavy hints that his short run of September 2015 gigs would be his last UK shows ever (or at least until he secures a recording deal), Morrissey has announced a huge homecoming show at Manchester Arena on August 20th. In honour of this occasion, The Black Wax evaluates the best of his (solo) live releases to date.

Live in Dallas (1992)

Recorded during Morrissey’s first solo tour in 1991, one which broke box-office records across America, Live in Dallas is a rough and ready document which perfectly conveys the atmosphere of these rowdy early gigs. Morrissey was reportedly charmed by the footage, which was taken from the venue’s security cameras and not originally intended for release. The setlist is made up of songs from his first two studio albums (Viva Hate and Kill Uncle), the compilation Bona Drag and carefully chosen covers, including The Jam’s That’s Entertainment. The band, Morrissey’s first touring group since leaving The Smiths, infuse the material with a rockabilly flavour, meaning the renditions here are often superior to the original songs (especially the Kill Uncle material). That being said, Morrissey’s voice is often wildly out of tune, or absent completely due to stage invasions, which culminate in the band having to flee the stage part-way during an encore performance of Everyday is Like Sunday, due to fears for their safety.

Beethoven Was Deaf (1993)

Morrissey and his band put in a much stronger performance two years after Dallas on this superbly titled live album, culled from shows in Paris and London. The rockabilly stylings of Dallas are toned down in favour of a glam rock assault, in line with Your Arsenal, the Mick Ronson-produced studio album which Beethoven Was Deaf is associated with. The former album makes up the bulk of the songs performed here, although earlier tracks such as Suedehead are also given a run out. Morrissey’s voice here is dynamic and versatile, ranging from yelps and growls to heartfelt crooning. Although now out of print, Beethoven Was Deaf is worth hunting down, if only for the fantastic rendition of the fan-favourite B-side, Jack the Ripper, generally considered to be the definitive version.

Who put the ‘M’ in Manchester / Live at Earls Court (2004)

2004 was Morrissey’s annus mirabilis. After returning from the wilderness with the superb You Are the Quarry, Moz capitalised on his renewed popularity with a live DVD and CD from his tours that year. Who Put the ‘M’… is the souvenir of Morrissey’s 45th birthday homecoming concert, an emotional performance in front of a rabid Manchester crowd. Songs from both Moz’s solo career and Smiths days are aired here, with highlights including a gorgeous encore performance of There Is a Light That Never Goes Out. Live at Earls Court is less of a retrospective, wheeling out Quarry tracks and B-sides, as well as a cover of Patti Smith’s Redondo Beach, a sweet tribute to one of Morrissey’s heroes. Both of these releases benefit from the fact that by 2004, Moz’s live vocals had improved dramatically compared to a decade earlier and the fact that his band now included a keyboard player, allowing faithful renditions of songs such as A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours to be performed.

 Live at the Hollywood Bowl (unreleased)

The scheduled release of the recording of this 2007 show was cancelled, but Live at the Hollywood Bowl is arguably more comprehensive than any of Morrissey’s official live releases and deserves to be mentioned alongside them. Opening with the ferocious one-two punch of The Queen is Dead and The Last of the Famous International Playboys, Morrissey and his band thoroughly explore his vast catalogue, tearing through singles, B-sides, then-unreleased material and Smiths numbers. Moz himself is in fine voice and fettle, prowling the stage in a white suit and whipping his microphone cord with abandon. His band tastefully complement his performance with their best arrangements to date – see the crashing crescendo of Life is a Pigsty for the best evidence of this.

Morrissey: 25 Live (2013)

Much more intimate than either Who Put the ‘M’… or Live at the Hollywood Bowl, 25 Live gained mixed reviews upon release, mostly because of the fact that despite Morrissey’s performance is almost flawless, this is a release which is geared towards hardcore Moz devotees. 25 Live can at times be cringe-inducing, such as when front-row fans are handed the microphone in order to heap praise upon their idol. It can also be touching – a very young fan is crowdsurfed to the stage during the encore, then picked up and held by Moz himself. The cinematography is somewhat standard for a concert film, but catches Moz at his designer shirted, matinee-idol best, his every gesture and facial expression recorded for posterity. Although 25 Live would benefit from giving more of an insight into the man himself, it succeeds in its aim of showing Morrissey as one of the best live performers of his generation. As he states during the show: ‘the microphone is [his] tombstone’.

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