|Morrissey - Who Put the M in Manchester?|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 29 March 2005|
If you’ve ever attended a Morrissey concert, no doubt you’ve also noticed the steady stream of fans, both male and female, that fight their way onto the stage just to hug and be hugged by Morrissey. During the performance documented on this DVD, which was filmed in the artist’s English home country, not even one stage-seeker succeeds in his or her flesh-pressing quest. But maybe this omission only enhances the home viewer’s experience, since it is a concert DVD that focuses solely on the man and his music, rather than the oddball culture that surrounds his fame.
Morrissey certainly retains a curious charisma. He’s an awkward dancer, a sometimes-unsteady singer, and a lyricist who writes about everything from handicapped youths to the twisted mindset of Jack the Ripper on the prowl. This is pulp music, not pop music. Yet fans swarm to see him, since they hope and pray -- or at least assume -- that he somehow understands them. You see, when Morrissey sings about his own life, he characterizes himself as yet one more “crashing bore,” to quote one of his song lyrics. Seemingly, his fans don’t want to be him, per se; they just want him to empathize with them.
The Who Put the “M” in Manchester concert had “special event” written all over it, since it was filmed in Morrissey’s hometown on his birthday. Because Morrissey has a documented history of being sentimental about both places and periods of time, a hometown birthday show was like one of those astrological moments where all the stars magically line up. Unlike Morrissey’s simultaneous Live At Earl’s Court CD release, this concert DVD sticks primarily to familiar Moz favorites. This makes sense, though, since such a familiar setting is also a place for similarly familiar sounds.
Over the years, Morrissey has begun to feel more and more comfortable with his legacy as the famous face and voice of The Smiths, and this show contains plenty of memorable Smiths moments. Best of all are the rarely-performed “The Headmaster Ritual” and the highly personalized “Rubber Ring.” “Rubber Ring,” though nowhere close to a hit, is one of the best things this prolific man has ever written. It’s sung from the perspective of a record collection speaking back to its owner, strangely enough. Here’s its story: In the past, these records were this owner’s only solace. But now that this record collector has gotten a life, so to speak, he doesn’t need the friendship of his favorite records any longer. Nevertheless, these old records want to remind him that they were once his faithful companions. Other Smiths selections included here are “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” “A Rush and A Push and The Land Is Ours,” and the regular closer, “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.”
In an odd way, the past and the present engage in an uncomfortable intersection within this concert’s opening song, “First of The Gang to Die.” Morrissey may be an Irish-blooded bloke from England -- as another song, “Irish Blood, English Heart” boldly proclaims -- but “First Of The Gang To Die” was clearly inspired by the bloodthirsty gang activity Morrissey witnesses in his current home of Los Angeles. As rabid Moz fans well know, the Hispanic community has an unlikely affinity for Morrissey. His shows draw a large contingent of Hispanics, and some of his most diehard fans are of Mexican descent. It makes one wonder if this song is Morrissey’s way of trying reach out and understand the community that gives him so much loyal support. Even though its lyrics talk about folks outside of Morrissey’s ethnicity, its subject matter -- death and crime -- fits right into the artist’s usual morbid field of vision. You may recall another one of his songs, “The Last of the International Playboys,” which was a sick little love song directed toward two real-life murderous twin brothers. As for the whole death quotient, well, it’s nearly impossible for Morrissey to write anything without the Grim Reaper at least lurking around somewhere. The first of this gang to die won’t be the last corpse in a Morrissey song.
Naturally, Morrissey draws liberally from his excellent new You Are the Quarry studio disc here. In addition to the aforementioned “First Of The Gang To Die” and “Irish Blood, English Heart,” this latest album is also saluted with “I Have Forgiven Jesus,” “Let Me Kiss You,” “The World Is Filled With Crashing Bores” and “How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel.” These songs paradoxically reveal both a more mature and yet fundamentally unchanged Morrissey simultaneously. “I Have Forgiven Jesus,” “Let Me Kiss You” and “The World Is Filled With Crashing Bores” all play on the man’s outspoken sense of inadequacy. Yet he seems to have come to a sense of acceptance with these feelings of low self-esteem. Whereas before he might have sounded suicidal while discussing such dark feelings, nowadays he’s simply learning how to live with them.
While it’s true that there aren’t many fresh songs here, Morrissey does perform one brand newie, “Don’t Make Fun of Daddy’s Voice.” While non-album tracks are few and far between, viewers are nevertheless treated to some fine older Moz solo songs, such as “Hairdresser On Fire,” “Everyday Is Like Sunday,” “I Know It’s Going To Happen Someday,” “Such A Little Thing Makes Such A Big Difference” and “Jack The Ripper,” among others.
One of this DVD’s bonus features offers a starkly different concert Morrissey experience. It comes in the form of five live performances from the Move Festival in Manchester, 2004. Although it contains only one different song from the main concert portion, “Every Day Is Like Sunday,” the crowd’s reaction during these sequences is quite illuminating. Firstly, these performances took place outside and in front of a festival audience. Secondly, the audience sings along to every word of every song with Morrissey. So in an odd way, this outdoor performance seems more intimate than the indoor one. Go figure.
Other DVD extras, however, are not nearly so revealing. There are a few singles included here, but these do not differ greatly from the main concert footage. There’s also a promotional spot for PETA, which preaches against the evils of raising animals for food. But as with The Smiths’ “Meat Is Murder” song, this is a cause you’re either for or against, and it’s doubtful that this one short will change anybody’s mind.
Much like Morrissey’s new live CD, this DVD captures the quirky artist at the top of his game. His band is strong, his new songs are up to his high standards, and he appears to be truly engaged in what he’s doing. Who would have imagined that a working class town like Manchester would have produced such a unique artist as Morrissey? But here he is, in all his self deprecating glory, and performing many of the songs that made him into such a famous Manchester product in the first place.