Morrissey Brings His Ageless Voice and YouTube Politics to San Jose State University

Morrissey
July 25, 2015
Event Center, San Jose State University
Click here for a slideshow of the concert.

Better Than: Getting bitten by a tick. Yeesh.

Well, it wouldn’t be a Morrissey show if someone didn’t cancel. In this case, Moz wasn’t the culprit, a departure from his history of bailing on Bay Area shows at the absolute last minute. In 2009, he cancelled a gig at the Paramount in Oakland due to “illness” but was spotted that night at the DNA Lounge. In 2013, he nixed a pair of gigs at the Warfield and the Regency Ballroom respectively, which followed an earlier missed date at Davies Symphony Hall.

[jump] The escalating series of no-shows in the Bay Area became infamous enough that local store SubliminalSF began selling “Fuck Moz” stickers. This time, however, Morrissey was there. Sadly, opener Amanda Palmer was forced to cancel her appearance as she battles acute Lyme’s disease while seven months pregnant with her first child. Let this be a reminder to us all that ticks are the worst – long pants when you hike in grass, O.K. kids?

While it was certainly disappointing to miss out on what would have been a special set from Palmer, who previously made mention that the show was likely to be her last before taking a well-deserved maternity leave from the spotlight, her absence did provide for an interesting question: what would Morrissey do to replace her? Certainly his fans require no “warming up,” but Moz is not one to let the opportunity for fanfare pass him by. So instead, he played some videos… a lot of videos.

Ultimately the crowd was “treated” to 30 minutes of non sequitur footage, running the gamut from Ike and Tina Turner doing a live performance of “Nutbush City Limits” to an angry archival tirade from writer James Baldwin. It was a jarring sequence of events, and the crowd struggled to understand the intent behind the screening. At one point, a music video featuring a band that can only be described as a British Papa Roach was played in full, prompting a chorus of boos from the confused fans.

Perhaps part of their anger derived from a seriously flawed timeline for the night’s proceedings. While doors were listed at 7 p.m., there was still a decent number of fans (myself included) finding their way into the venue at 8:15. The amateur AV-nightmare that was Morrissey’s video pseudo-opener lasted from 8:30 to 9:05 p.m., when the man himself finally took the stage in a sweet shimmering turquoise top and launched into “Suedehead,” the first single from his debut solo album. If the ordeal of the late entry and Adult Swim-level weirdness of the video montage had upset the crowd, all was forgiven the moment the first note left Moz’s mouth and hit the microphone. It’s been 31 years since The Smiths’ debut album was released, but Morrissey’s voice is still a supple and transfixing entity. His simple words and limited stage movements did nothing to dampen the experience of hearing him sing live, each song in the set connected to its predecessor by way of his enchanting, booming lilt. 
For most of the songs, innocuous footage of the Los Angeles skyline or still photographs of the artist as a young man were utilized as the backdrop for the stage. However, two songs were given special prominence with their visual accompaniment, which made for a seriously sobering experience. During the song “Ganglord” – which opens with the lyrics “The police are kicking their way into my house” and ends with the haunting line “Get yourself back to the ghetto” – violent, explicit shots of police officers beating and subduing men, women, and yes, even children, was projected behind the stage. This wasn’t footage you might see on CNN either – Morrissey’s audience was subjected to a grisly array of dashcam videos and closed circuit tape that would at bare minimum merit an R-rating.

Later in his set, Morrissey continued his visual assault while covering The Smiths’ “Meat is Murder,” playing ghastly recordings of animals being slaughtered, tortured, and maimed. Anyone with a passing familiarity of Moz knows his outspoken position as a vegan, but dear lord, this footage was brutal. Several members of the crowd left the show, while others turned their heads or covered their eyes in horror. Suffice to say, it took a bit of energy from the evening’s final two songs.

While the visual components of Morrissey’s performance did the best they could to overshadow the music, hearing songs like “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” and “Speedway” ensured the night remained a net positive. That said, it takes more than seeing a video of a cow being decapitated to change the slaughterhouse industry. Moz can do whatever he wants in his shows, but the beauty of seeing a musician live is that it’s supposed to be better than YouTube, not a new way to experience it.

Critic’s Notebook:

– The irony of exiting Morrissey’s concert to find the inevitable gathering of vendors selling bacon-wrapped hotdogs from pushcarts was palpable and delicious.

– If the faux pas about wearing a t-shirt featuring the band or artist you’re about to see to that musician’s concert is still in play, no one at Saturday’s night concert got the memo.
– Bandmember Gustavo Manzur was an unexpected highlight of the concert, singing a solo section of “World Peace is None of Your Business” in Spanish, and later playing a slick acoustic guitar solo during “Staircase at the University.” Maybe the next time the opening act can’t make it, Moz should ask him to fill-in.

Setlist:

1. Suedehead
2. Alma Matters
3. First of the Gang to Die
4. Kiss Me a Lot
5. Speedway
6. Ganglord
7. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before
8. World Peace Is None of Your Business
9. Staircase at the University
10. Scandinavia
11. I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris
12. Kick the Bride Down the Aisle
13. The World is Full of Crashing Bores
14. What She Said
15. Istanbul
16. The Bullfighter Dies
17. Will Never Marry
18. Meat is Murder
19. I Will See You in Far-Off Places

Encore:

20. Everyday is Like Sunday

[Editor's note: This review initially stated the doors for the show did not open until 8:15pm. There are multiple entrances at this venue, all of which opened at 7 p.m. But some of those entrances (including the one our reporter was in line for) had large crowds being held outside until 8:15 p.m. in order to allow waves of concertgoers a safe, uncrowded entrance into the venue.]

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