Sunday, December 16, 2012

Morrissey Live

Artist – Morrissey, Kristeen Young (Support)
Event - Down Under Tour 2012
Venue - Town Hall, Wellington
Date – Friday 14th December 2012

Many years ago, I took much influence in my guitar playing from an article about Throwing Muses' leader Kristen Hersh, whom it claimed "plays guitar like she's pulling out her own hair". 

Fridays opening act, St. Louis' Kristeen Young, is the first act I've come across that I can truly state plays piano in exactly the same way.
Imogen Heaps evil twin? Kristeen Young
In advance of the show, I'd heard that her live act consists of Young singing and playing keyboards with a live drummer. I don't know whether it's a permanent change, but on this tour her live act is just her and the keyboard, augmented with a lot of midi backing, which she seemed to be operating with her feet. 

Before I even mention her voice, her keyboard playing is simply breathtaking, dissonant, aggressive and totally particular. Her songs are very dynamic, with orchestral flourishes, ambient breakdowns and dance breakbeats at points.

Her oft-discussed voice however is the most startling point about her. Young absolutely belts it out, carrying melodies perfectly over four octaves. Having read reviews I was expecting Kate Bush or Florence Welch style histrionics but wasn't really prepared for vocal operatics more in the realm of Diamanda Galas. She was startling.

After an interval where performances by some of Morrisseys key influences were projected onto a screen (The Faces 'Itchycoo Park, David Bowies 'Jean Genie', as well as showings for The New York Dolls (about whom a pre-stardom Stephen Morrissey wrote and published a book) and Sparks), Morrissey took to the stage and immediately took a bow stage centre with his five piece backing backing band to rapturous applause. 

Having noticed the audience on the way in (a 50/50 mix of greying Smiths-era fans and camp Morrissey clones), I was prepared for the fact that Morrissey was playing to an audience of absolute devotees but the level of devotion and feeling of closeness to him was still awe inspiring.
The surprisingly heavyweight band kicked off proceedings with The Smiths 'Shoplifters Of The World Unite' to rapturous applause. He quickly followed with a brace of familiar Morrissey solo tracks including 'You're The One For Me, Fatty' and 'You Have Killed Me' (written with current touring guitarist Jesse Tobias). 

Perhaps the biggest applause of the night came from an extended, cathartic rendition of (my favourite Smiths track) 'How Soon Is Now'. I saw a patchy Auckland show early in the year by New Order, at which some older tracks ('Temptation') were incredible but many ('Blue Monday') sounded weary and paint-by-numbers. Morrisseys vocals on 'How Soon Is Now' remain perfectly fresh and heartfelt.

The set was littered with what could only be described as Morrissey-esque moments; touching hands in his devoted audience, taking cards and letters from the front row, an extended version of The Smiths 'Meat Is Murder', complete with video backdrop of animals being slaughtered, his legendary "Would you like to speak" Q&A sessions - where he passes the microphone to those same devoted fans to speak to him directly (indeed, Morrissey is perhaps the only artist I'm aware of that could claim a dialogue with his audience even more involved that most Metal bands) and nearly causing a riot by removing his shirt and throwing it into the audience.

His stage presence is legendary and my companion at the gig, whom had seen The Smiths in London (circa 1986) said that he's just as good now as he ever was. His vocals were absolutely perfect and the gig actually made it clear to me why he's got such a large Southern American/LA Latino following: it's drama. The shiny shirts, the theatricality, the gesturing - he's like a Mexican Corrido singer.

After introducing the band (which included long-time songwriting companion, Musical Director and one-time Polecat Boz Boorer, who played the entire gig with his guitar on a stand and his arm in a sling) Morrissey closed the set with another Smiths classic, 'Still Ill'.

About a month ago, an old colleague of mine was ranting about his loathing of Morrissey on Facebook, to which I answered that I was due to be attending a gig, but wasn't "really sure why". In this live setting, his solo material is every bit as strong as The Smiths output and he is absolutely deserved the reputation he has as truly incredible performer.

I was eight years old when The Smiths split up so can't claim to have been a contemporary fan, (indeed the first album that I regularly listened to with Johnny Marrs guitar playing on would probably have been The The's 'Dusk' album from 1993) so the only Smiths records that we have in the house actually belong to my girlfriend:

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