21 Sep 2015

The world won't listen - Morrissey @ Hammersmith Apollo, London (live review)

By a strange twist of fate, I ended up seeing Morrissey at the Hammersmith Apollo last night, and his performance was almost flawless. As a former devotee of The Smiths and a past idoliser of the man in question, I enjoyed the experience, but in many ways it was an eye opener. Morrissey is one of those people who could stand still on a stage, in complete silence, and you’d still feel his presence. Of course the set was good, because however aged he may be, he is still the same man who fronted The Smiths, shook up the mainstream with his solo career and is one of the most controversial and original individuals in the English vernacular and then some.

Amidst the hits and stage antics – which saw longstanding guitarist Boz Boorer wind up behind the drums – this show was far more political than Morrissey’s jaunt at the O2. In a slightly smaller venue, every point hits harder and people’s reactions are more evident. The painful ambiguity behind Morrissey’s stance towards racial equality was addressed; before he came on, a video of Young, Gifted and Black by Bob and Marcia was played, if you can take anything from that. It felt like this was finally an attempt to clean the slate, which was to some extent openly confirmed by the song, Ganglord. A sleek attack on police brutality, the track concerned features the line, ‘they say: “To protect and serve,” but what they really mean to say is: “Get back to the ghetto,” with the accompaniment of a montage of American police brutality, the majority of which, by no strange coincidence, happens to be against African Americans. Regardless of Morrissey’s position as a white man, now considerably well off, I think it’s important for someone with such a large audience to say these things.

And now I come to my comments on the audience, who are the central motivation for this article and who caused by far the most confusion of the night, Morrissey’s boot-cut jeans aside. Before World Peace Is None of Your Business, Morrissey congratulated Jeremy Corbyn’s stance against the monarchy and his resolve in abstaining from that jingoistic emetic we call our national anthem. A good number of people booed, with various expletives more distinctly audible than others. I dismissed this; it would be na├»ve to see someone as widely popular as Morrissey and expect everyone to hold the appropriate views. Nonetheless, I found it disheartening.

The instance that really drove the knife in came before The World Is Full of Crashing Bores, ironically. Morrissey commented on the Conservative government, and asked ‘are you happy?’ rhetorically, obviously, but many people took it upon themselves to cheer. A woman standing next to me shouted ‘yes!’ along with some nonsense about taxes. Hang on a second. You’ve come to see the man who was interrogated for writing Margaret on the Guillotine, but you’re a proud Tory? Are you even listening to the words? Do you know where you are? If you’re looking for indiscriminate entertainment why would you choose Morrissey? I hear Gary Barlow is Conservative friendly.

Towards the end of the set, Morrissey sang his obligatory rendition of Meat Is Murder, which – as you would expect – was ignored by a large number of people.

As a clip of a cow being abused before its torturous slaughter flickered on the screen behind the band, he asked ‘do you care?’ to which the answer was clearly ‘no’ for a lot of people. Some people turned away from the screen, literally turning a blind eye.

This is very judgemental in some ways, and it’s probably not true of many people who were there. For me it was the final part of a revelation, which has been a long time coming. When I first started listening to Morrissey, I saw him as a bastion of reason; if people connect with these words like I do, then they must have the same views as me. Clearly they do not. ‘They’ are now largely middle aged, almost exclusively white, and simply want some pleasant music to put on in the background. Maybe the numerous controversies surrounding Morrissey’s personal views have attracted people the same way I was, but to them, ‘Morrissey’ means something else. It took a brilliant show and an ordinary audience to make me realise just how observant it was to call an album The World Won’t Listen.