Morrissey - Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Mon 30 Jul 2012 (5 stars)

Full set of considered material from alchemist of anthemic and poignant

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Morrissey - Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Mon 30 Jul 2012

Photo: Neil McDonald

Waking up on bone-chilling stone, face pressed hard against the Usher Hall’s unforgiving front steps is relevant only in that it immediately evokes sensual memories of Manchester Arena, an enormous, imposing concrete affair. Incidentally this is where, a couple of nights ago, Morrissey played a homecoming gig that turned out to be the largest ever by an artist without a record contract. That’s also why we’re here, me and a ragtag handful of the supposed misfits that represent a percentage of the singer’s wildly devotional fan base. It is four in the morning. You have to get up early if you want to grasp and fumble at the hem of your idol’s robe.

The Usher Hall proves to be a fairly appropriate resting place for the final show in this leg of Morrissey’s extensive tour. Just over a year ago, he kicked off in Perth for a five-date Scottish sojourn that drove him onwards throughout England, America and across the globe before returning to say farewell (until autumn at least) in the capital. The polarity of the two final venues doesn’t go unnoticed either – the Usher Hall lush and theatrical to Manchester Arena’s stark, harsh confines, or, if you prefer, the former’s ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ to the latter’s ‘Meat Is Murder’.

Fifteen long, cold hours in a sleeping bag contemplating poor life choices later – breaking only to refresh flagging quiffs – the barrier separating stage from front row is seized upon by us teeming masses, grateful for a change of scene for the next few hours. Even before Morrissey steps on stage, the anticipatory atmosphere is carefully suffused with his personal touch, from the choice of incidental muzak (refreshing in its inclusion of t.A.T.u’s dancey, poppy, so-bad-it's-good attempt at ‘How Soon is Now’), to warm-up act Kristeen Young. Young’s aesthetic and sound is arguably reminiscent of Morrissey in that it is simultaneously combative and sensuous and just as Marmite-ian. However, it's fairly well-received by this particular audience, Scots perhaps more accepting of her intensity than the tough Manchester crowd who had shouted insults throughout her set. Pummelling her keyboard into dissonant submission Young wrestles with her admittedly formidable vocal range, writhing across the stage in a manner that’s witty and bizarre. Next up is a mélange of video clips, sliced together as though Moz got stuck in a YouTube k-hole: mainly crackly, over-pixelated music videos, including Nico singing ‘I’m Not Sayin'’, New York Dolls’ ‘Looking For a Kiss’ and Sparks’ ‘Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth’ amid a mish mash of interviews until, finally, Big Hard Excellent Fish's 'Imperfect List', portends Morrissey's arrival. Strolling on stage, he revels in his usual brand of tongue-in-cheek dramatics from the start, juxtaposing idle chit-chat ('What would Edinburgh be without the rain? Who knows, but it wouldn't be Edinburgh,)' with camply sliding down against the saltire-emblazoned bass drum, before mock-struggling to his feet to carol 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me', an unexpected opener, but nonetheless a sufficiently soulful lament to set the mood for the rest of the show which is quickly revealed to be anthem after singalong anthem, yelled back into his face by a straining crowd. Allowing no time for the audience to huff a collective breath, he barrels into a moving 'Every Day Is Like Sunday', followed by the brash, unapologetic 'Alma Matters': one of his finest opening trios in some time, sending palpable shivers of pleasure through the heaving venue.

The Usher Hall's theatrical traditions be damned: the fourth wall has never meant much to Morrissey, and how could it when each new song heralds a tsunami of hands thrust blindly stageward which he taunts for a while before gratefully receiving. Handing the microphone to the swarming front row, he is beseeched, 'Come to Wigan, Morrissey, please come to Wigan,' to which he spits a playful, 'no!' before launching into a quartet of reliable singles: 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris', 'You Have Killed Me', 'Shoplifters of the World Unite' and 'You're the One for Me, Fatty'. His trademark croon is bolstered, as always, by a tight band - 'love-hungry bachelors' he explains - unobtrusive and uniform in both dress (except the ever-glamorous lead guitarist Miss Gaynor Tension, aka stalwart axe master Boz Boorer in glorious drag) and the military attention to original detail each number is given. With a fan base as rabid as this one, discrepancies will get noticed and the steady rotation of band members are often ripped apart for not immaculately recalling a song's original musician.

'We are all of us minorities' opines Morrissey to introduce 'People Are the Same Everywhere', the only one of a clutch of his newer songs that are rolled out tonight. This middle-of-the-roader could well have sidled away from 2009's Years of Refusal and has become a regular fixture in recent shows, its relative anonymity no doubt due to the aforementioned record deal deficiency. Notable, mainly, for its generic inoffensiveness, the song accounts for one of the short-lived and infrequent lulls in the roar of the evening, alongside, oddly enough, 'Ouija Board' and the criminally underrated 'Maladjusted'. A ripple in the riptide, perhaps, but poignancy is never far away when it comes to the godfather of angst, as, deadpan and looking down his nose into the middle distance, Morrissey grasps the mic and declares: 'We all know that the British judiciary killed Oscar Wilde and that something similar happened to Shelley, Byron, Keats and Yeats. The British establishment rewards mediocrity and the mediocre. It also hates people who are not mediocre, so...' and then the non-mediocre of the country are themselves rewarded with a stripped back 'Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want'. Bathed in a near-blinding spotlight, Morrissey sings simply and with genuine emotion, only the stoniest of hearts could fail to crack. In moments such as these, when the entire auditorium aches with empathy, the reason for the 4am starts, wasted days queuing and unfaltering devotion becomes clear: we recognise ourselves in his vulnerability and the eloquence with which he paints himself as an outsider, the beauty in imperfection and an acknowledgement of the world's grotesque sense of humour are utterly relatable. Ever more touching is an encounter with an audience member who, after being handed the microphone, speaks frankly of his friend, Kevin Roberts, a fan who passed away earlier this year. Morrissey, visibly moved, dedicates the following song, his take on Frankie Valli's 'To Give (The Reason I Live)', to Kevin.

Far be it for me to perpetuate the stereotype of Morrissey and his fans as snivelling miserablists, when, in fact, the dapper 53 year-old is on splendid, wry form, taking himself less than seriously most of the evening. Dressed in jeans and a rotation of tailored shirts, trademark quiff greying at the temples, but still defiantly high, good humour abounds. Although the flailing, hip thrusting dancing of his younger years is long gone, the primping and preening, sneering and snarling, microphone cord-whipping theatrics remain, lyrics replaced with guttural moans when he can't be bothered. He seems, dare I say, happy.

Bone-rattling guitars and an impending sense of doom signal both encore 'How Soon Is Now' and the predictable tidal wave of stage invaders rolling overhead, acquiring bruises which won't be noticed til tomorrow, intent only on grabbing Morrissey while they still have the time. After some time it gets mesmerizing – all arms and flailing legs, kicks in the face, grasping at this man who's performing a song which sums up the human condition so succinctly. You almost begin to think: 'I could do that too.' So I did. Jumped the barrier and got tugged on stage. The main question from friends after the gig was: 'How did it feel?' which is a surprisingly hard one to wrestle with and difficult to discuss without appearing more gushing and emotional than usual. How does it feel to be allowed to show your appreciation to the man who sings your life? When it's on stage, grabbing a confused hug and trying not to cling too much, how did it feel? In a word: sweaty.

Chucked back into the pit, I've a chance take my first real look at the rest of the audience from the sidelines. As the song thunders to a close, the place is on its feet as Morrissey throws 'I love you' in our direction and leaves the building basking in operatic come-down music. In the following mill-around even the most seasoned Moz-veterans agree we've all just witnessed something spectacular. With retirement rumours constantly rearing their misreported heads, although branded 'wishful thinking' by the one man who really knows, and still no record contract, it seems his crowd are eager to get it where they can. If he continues to pull off gigs like that, any retirement will leave a controversial and cantankerous, but loved and cherished hole in the music world.

Morrissey

The former Smiths frontman and purveyor of bittersweet indie pop continues to enjoy his solo renaissance.

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