Morrissey – First Direct Arena, Leeds, UK (24th February 2018)

On Saturday night, 12,000 people slipped down the Leeds side streets to see Morrissey at the First Direct Arena. With fans queuing outside the venue since 1am in temperatures occasionally dropping to sub-zero, the concert was highly anticipated. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

After screening thirty minutes of videos that ranged from a performance of ‘Jet Boy by Morrissey’s teenage idols, the New York Dolls, to t.A.T.u.’s cover of ‘How Soon Is Now?’, Morrissey came onstage to frenzied applause, and opened with a cover of Elvis’s ‘I’ll Be Gone’. He then launched into his first performance of the evening of a song from his latest album, ‘Low In High School’, with the muscular ‘I Wish You Lonely’. Despite ongoing health issues, with spellbinding vocals, he captivated the audience with seeming effortlessness from the outset.

Morrissey showcased a further seven songs from ‘Low In High School’s total twelve throughout the concert. One of the highlights was ‘Who Will Protect Us From The Police?’, in which he proved himself as outspoken as ever. As he sang, he had footage of police brutality projected onto the screen behind him. While not a new feature – he did the same with ‘Ganglord’ during his 2015 tour – it was made even more poignant by the song’s lyrics, which focus on the effects of police brutality on children and families. Few of those able to bring themselves to watch it all made it to the end dry-eyed.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be a Morrissey concert if he didn’t also raise the issue of animal welfare. A dedicated vegan, he has convinced many fans to abandon meat since he released ‘Meat is Murder’ in 1984. In Leeds, he gave an impassioned performance of ‘The Bullfighter Dies’ from ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’. The jubilant chords juxtaposed against brutal footage of bullfighting, the performance was as heart-wrenching as it was invigorating.

Morrissey also threw in a surprise with ‘Munich Air Disaster 1958’, a rarely played tribute to Manchester United’s fallen heroes. Complete with footage of the players in their prime which concluded with the names of the deceased, the performance was deeply moving regardless of your level of interest in football. It was a beautiful reminder of Morrissey’s much-loved ability to commemorate tragedy in soul-stirring language.

The concert was also as much a treat for the eyes as the ears. Halfway through the set, Morrissey gave a haunting performance of ‘Jack The Ripper’. The stage was drenched in red lighting and filled with smoke through which Morrissey could just be seen emerging as he threw himself into the most atmospheric three and a half minutes of the night. As he reached the chorus, the arena became a sea of outstretched arms as the audience sang the lines “crash into my arms, I want you” back to him. The fact that the song has become a live favourite just goes to show the strength of Morrissey’s catalogue. Not many artists can call a B-side from the 90s a fan favourite, but ‘Jack The Ripper’ is a gem.

Morrissey also included some classic crowd-pleasers, with early singles ‘Suedehead’ and ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’, along with two Smiths songs. He had the entire arena laughing as he changed the line ‘I grabbed you by the gilded beams’ to ‘I grabbed you by the Heinz Baked Beans’ in ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’, and when he gave a show-stopping rendition of ‘How Soon Is Now?’, at moments he could barely be heard over the crowd. Never let it be said that Morrissey concerts are a morose affair!

From the moment Morrissey walked on stage to the time the concert concluded with an encore of hit 2004 single ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’, with an animated cover of The Pretenders’ ‘Back On The Chain Gang’ in the middle, the excitement in the arena was palpable. He and his band were on top form, and their combined efforts made for a magical night. The NHS specs and gladioli may be long gone, but Morrissey’s icon status is as alive and well as ever.

Morrissey’s UK tour concludes on March 9th at the Alexandra Palace in London. The evenings setlist was as follows…

You’ll Be Gone
I Wish You Lonely
Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage
Home Is a Question Mark
Munich Air Disaster 1958
I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish
Who Will Protect Us From the Police?
World Peace Is None of Your Business
Jack the Ripper
Back on the Chain Gang
I Bury the Living
When You Open Your Legs
If You Don’t Like Me, Don’t Look at Me
Spent the Day in Bed
My Love, I’d Do Anything for You
The Bullfighter Dies
Hold On to Your Friends
How Soon Is Now?
Everyday Is Like Sunday

Irish Blood, English Heart