Updated: Mar 30, 2019
Studio Club, Krakow, 22/7/11
Disappointment: a word Morrissey might identify with. Not the kind of disappointment that leaves you feeling short-changed, or worse still, wishing you hadn’t bothered at all. But disappointment all the same. For many fans, myself included, Morrissey’s enduring popularity can be put down to his exceptional stage presence and the unique ability to connect with his fans, or ‘acolytes’, as he has preferred to call them, since his early Smiths days. And when he’s on form, he’s practically untouchable as a solo performer. Tonight, Morrissey can’t find that spark, or perhaps he can’t be bothered to look for it, failing to acknowledge either the city or the country he is playing in, but occasionally pausing to grin, or grimace, at the crowd’s mispronunciation of his name. Maybe it’s his recently broken finger (ironically caused by a dog attack) that is bothering him, or maybe he just didn’t get the required vegetarian cutlets in his rider. Whatever, Morrissey’s first appearance in Krakow for a ‘secret’ and oddly-timed concert, in the middle of festival season, coincided not with a dreaded sunny day but with an unseasonal spell of Manchester-like weather. Slate-grey Victorian skies welcomed the ex-Smiths legend to town, although a more-or-less sold-out Studio Club has more than a smattering of gladioli-wielding acolytes to justify Stephen Patrick’s unexpected presence. Strolling around the lobby area, the merch seemed to be selling like hot cakes, including a few Smiths-era and early 90s images of his Mozness.
Kicking off impressively with Smiths favourite ‘I Want The One I Can’t Have,’ Morrissey and his current five-piece band waste no time in serving up ‘You’re The One For Me, Fatty’, ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’, ‘Speedway’, and ‘You Have Killed Me’. Some absolute classics in there, and the crowd is suitably pleased. The set falls a little bit flat thereafter as Morrissey tries out a couple of new tracks. Firstly the slightly pedestrian ‘Action Is My Middle Name’; prefaced with the suitably gloomy “We all have a date with the undertaker” and then the oblique but prescient (given the massacre in Oslo that very day) ‘Scandinavia’: “Crime in Trondheim / I despise each syllable in "Scandinavia” / Let the people burn / Let their children cry and die in blind asylum.” Although the song turns out to be a paean to the place, it certainly leaves the listener something unpalatable to chew on. ‘One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell’ , from most recent album ‘Years of Refusal’, lyrically weak – ‘I have been thinking ("What with?") my final brain-cell’, only serves to underline Morrissey’s lack of outstanding material since 2004’s ‘You Are The Quarry’.
Things cheer up a little with ‘Alma Matters’, the only song to have survived his ‘97-‘03 nadir in which he found himself, like now, without a record deal for extended periods. ‘Satellite of Love’ is a pleasant surprise: a tribute to one of Morrissey’s glam icons, and a pretty note-perfect rendition it is too. Like Reed, Morrissey’s legend has grown out of all proportion to the length of time he was actually producing his best material. Nevertheless it’s at moments like these you realize how well he has withstood the ravages of time and fashion, and a breezy ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ follows, then a slowed-down version of ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ which never matches the original for doomed romance; the band playing so slowly at this point that had the double-decker bus of the song’s refrain crashed into the audience it might actually have livened up proceedings somewhat.
It wasn’t all bad of course; One of the highlights of the set then follows, ‘I Know It’s Over’, one of the most plaintive of Smiths songs from The Queen Is Dead and still utterly heart-wrenching; a song that makes loneliness seem almost heroic: “Mother I can feel the soil feeling over my head” its central refrain, although the song seems slightly at odds with the 52 year old singing it these days. Then Morrissey gets on his high horse and instructs us how “we as human beings are sick to death of McDonalds and KFC” before launching into a dark, 'beefed-up' and rather disturbing version of ‘Meat Is Murder’, lights dimmed, the visuals behind him showing lambs being led to the slaughter and the like. The band, all sporting T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Fuck Fur’ may have looked like hired hands, but it was in this song that they came into their own, especially long-term guitarist Boz Boorer and drummer Matt Walker.
The song ends with crashing gongs and an ironic (or honest) apology from Morrissey that he has a date to keep with a psychiatrist in Warsaw; drenched in sweat, he bows to the audience along with his band before departing, only to return in a starched white shirt for the encore, ‘First of the Gang To Die’, containing what is possibly Morrissey’s last truly inspired lyric: ‘You have never been in love / Until you’ve seen the sun rise behind the home for the blind’. No doubt he’s right. Whether Morrissey stole all hearts away with tonight’s performance though is a moot point, and it can only be hoped he’s not approaching his twilight years with a few more Vauxhall and I’s or You Are the Quarries up his sleeve, and not the bland fayre of the last few years, because we need Morrissey in this day and age, with its ‘lock-jawed popstars’; he, if noone else, might still have something to convey.
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