Between songs of the first show of his 2020 tour, Morrissey confidently turned to us and said...
“Don’t get too upset when you read the reviews for tonight, because you know they have to be bad. You know they have to be snotty and snooty. That’s the way of the world. They’ve already been written.”
And then it occurred to me, I should write my own.
Arriving at The First Direct Arena in Leeds, I had put very little thought into what to expect. Having just released his 2019 album California Son, what seemed like five minutes ago, Morrissey was already revealing tasters of his upcoming 2020 album, I Am Not A Dog On A Chain. Then, there was also the Morrissey classics of "Suedehead", "Every Day Is Like Sunday", and "First of the Gang to Die"; underrated covers like "That’s Entertainment" and "Back on the Chain Gang". Not to mention the melodramatic, melancholy hits from The Smiths. There was simply no way of knowing, or guessing, an expected setlist.
The doors opened at 6pm, and we arrived at the arena half an hour later. A bar visit later, we ventured into a ghost town. Being some of the first to arrive, (not including some of the superfans that had been waiting since 10am), we quickly secured a spot near the stage and watched the arena gradually fill up over the next two hours.
Although not a ‘sold out’ show, the turn out was incredible and the audience varied in age and background significantly. Many had travelled far and wide to see the charming man himself, and some were even younger fans than I, despite The Smiths coming to an end long before I was born.
The curtain dropped, a huge Elvis backdrop appeared behind the flashing stage lights, and Morrissey made his usual dramatic appearance before jumping straight into his first song "You’re Gone" - an Elvis cover sung flawlessly as you’d expect. I was immediately submerged, with his voice sounding like a record, I forgot I was in an arena at all. The only thing that reminded me was the backdrop, as mentioned, of influential artists, actors and writers displayed above the stage, obviously hugely admired by Morrissey. Some images were also political references, like his longtime antagonist Margaret Thatcher about to be clobbered by a mounted policeman. I have to be honest, I did find this one humorous.
Attired in yellow corduroy, ripped t-shirt, blazer and a rosary, he meandered the stage in his trademark fashion, whipping around his mic cord as we took the plunge into an 80s throwback, ranging from deeper Smiths cuts like “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”, “Half A Person” and “The Boy With A Thorn In His Side”, as well as live debuts from his new album that we were the first to hear: “Jim Jim Falls”, “Love Is On Its Way Out” and “Once I Saw The River Clean”.
As you’d expect, some of the lyrics were controversial and raised eyebrows, especially with Morrissey introducing the tracks, explaining they had been ‘...rejected from British radio… and when you hear it, you’ll probably see why’. “Jim Jim Falls” comes to mind, with lyrics like ‘If you’re gonna jump, then jump. Don’t think about it. / If you’re gonna kill yourself, then for god sake, just kill yourself.’
Despite this, I found myself thinking beyond the words. Morrissey is a poet, enveloped in metaphors and hidden meanings. He speaks true, but never literal. He speaks ruthlessly, but fair. It’s one of the reasons he is still worshipped by so many; why his jacket was ripped to shreds in pools of spilt beer, why an encore of “Half A Person” and “Irish Blood, English Heart” was absolutely essential, why I think he is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and why, I hope, this wasn’t both my first Morrissey gig and last.
Setlist from the night:
You'll Be Gone / I Wish You Lonely / The Boy With The Thorn In His Side / Jim Jim Falls / At Amber / Morning Starship / Lady Willpower / That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore / Once I Saw The River Clean / If You Don't Like Me, Don't Look At Me / Munich Air Disaster 1958 / World Peace Is None Of Your Business / Seasick Yet Still Docked / I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris / Home Is A Question Mark / Love Is On Its Way Out / Back On The Chain Gang / Never Again Will I Be A Twin / I've Changed My Plea To Guilty / Some Say I Got Devil / Jack The Ripper / Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage // Half A Person / Irish Blood, English Heart