Morrissey: Live review as the controversial ex frontman of The Smiths headlines the Millennium Square in Leeds
and live on Freeview channel 276
It’s a conundrum that many are faced with when they discover that their favourite actors, writers and musicians are tainted by controversy or problematic views.
And it’s one that virtually every fan of Morrissey has been met with as the former The Smiths singer’s political leanings have become more divisive; never more apparent than his open support of the Anti-Islam party For Britain in 2019.
The Mancunian has always been one to be forthright on issues such as animal rights, royalty and politics, but his venture into more difficult terrain has been too much for some fans to take. It’s made even harder to digest considering it’s so at odds with the serene joy and yearning that his music has become renowned for.
It was the sort of dichotomy that felt palpable during set at the Millennium Square in Leeds on Wednesday evening, during which the brilliance of his wholly singular singing style and magnetic stage presence was never without a lingering caveat.
The sense of division has been fuelled no less by the star himself, and merch items that celebrate his lack of support from television, management or a record label only underlines his growing belligerence.
For those who haven’t boycotted him though it’s hard to not be drawn in by his performance. Playing Leeds after the cancellation of a show in Nottingham “due to unforeseen circumstances”, Morrissey displayed no indication of issues as he tore through an 18-song set replete with trademark chest baring, flower throwing and off-the-cuff remark making.
The set got off to an exceptional start with the haunting guitars of ‘How Soon Is Now?’ and the defiant adjustment of the lyrics to “I am still the son and the heir” before Mozza joked with the Leeds faithful: “We’re from Quarry Hill Flats and we’ve come to do you over.”
Things stayed at a crowd pleasing level as he rolled through favourites from across his four decade career in ‘Suedehead’, ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’, ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ and ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’.
The overtly patriotic lyrics of the latter stick out in particular and the presence of Union Jack and St George’s flags compound the uneasy feeling that Mozza has become entrenched in a particularly ugly side of the divide.
Then a not-so-veiled remark on the recent mass rioting sparked by the shooting of a teenager in Paris (“Who will save France and who will even ask the question?”) is followed by the unreleased ‘Notre Dame’, which addresses the alt-right conspiracy theory that the 2019 fire of the great cathedral was an Islamic attack (“Notre Dame, We will not be silent, Before investigations they said: ‘This is not terrorism’”). It’s all quite despairing.
Not that the internal struggle is universal among the whole crowd. And who can blame them for enjoying themselves, as mass singalongs break out for the stellar ‘Half A Person’ and ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’, while ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ loses none of its tender delicacy.
The mist descends on the stage for an expansive version of ‘Jack the Ripper’ before the night ends abruptly with ‘Sweet and Tender Hooligan’, leaving just wailing feedback to drench over the open air.