Four months after his first passage in the Irish capital, former Smiths frontman and icon Morrissey was ready for a triumphant return to Dublin in the final stages of his Ringleader Of The Tormentors tour.
The concert would bring us to Marlay Park, where “Mozzer” was headlining the BudRising festival. Marlay Park is an open air venue, idyllically located surrounded by mountains and hills and a little forest. A very idyllic location, especially as Moz would perform while the sun goes down above the hills… We kept our fingers crossed for a day without rain, which in Ireland you can never be sure of of course.
For this gig I had teamed up with a couple of other Moz-fans. It was my second Morrissey gig, which made me look like a total rookie: the others all had seen him over 10 times this year alone, and travel all over Europe to see Moz. They sometimes even just catch a plane to a Morrissey gig abroad without having a concert ticket, trying to get in somehow (and mostly they succeed luckily). Devotion of true fans, in other words. Also present yesterday was the devotest fan of them all, Julia, who hasn’t missed a Morrissey gig in more than 10 years, she travels all over the world to see every single gig of her hero (= over 100 Morrissey concerts a year sometimes), but is happy to invest her time and money in it. For me it was my second Morrissey gig, so I have a long haul to go before catching up with my travel partners!
Marlay Park was covered by dark rainclouds, but they didn’t release their rain just yet, so we kept our fingers crossed for a few hours more dryness. We arrived just too late to see the first support act Dandy Warhols (known for songs such as “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth” and “Bohemian Like You”), but we did catch the second act: The Magic Numbers. Nice pop music, good vocalist, but not that special that it really sticks with you hours after the gig. Rather than catching the full set we discovered the festival ground and its many memorabilia salespoints. The main crowd was separated from the first rows in front by a barrier. Only people paying extra for a sort of ‘VIP pass’ could access the part right in front of the stage. Thanks to a clever trick however, me and my travel partners managed to get into the target zone without paying those extra euros. We were right in front of the stage, only a handful of meters away from the microphone, ready for some drooling over our ‘hero’ Morrissey.
At 9.05 PM the lights faded, followed by a sorta dramatic sound while some dark shadows appeared in the corner of the stage. Morrissey walked out and greeted the audience with “The skies are grey and the clouds are dark, this must be Dublin.” The tone was set and Moz got the crowd going immediately with a full-of-energy version of his Smiths classic “Panic”. The crowd started a wild dance and jumped up in the air while screaming the iconic line “Hang the DJ!”.
Morrissey chose for an opening that would grab the audience straight away and keep them dancing, as he followed with two of his more recent solo singles: “The First Of The Gang To Die” and the eerie “The Youngest Was The Most Loved” (a song about a boy who lived overprotected and outed his frustrations by committing murder). The crowd was enthousiast from the first seconds on, and it was clear Morrissey himself was in great shape: he was dancing charismatically, ‘playing’ and ‘flirting’ with the audience, and his vocals were spot on. Many singers, even some of the most iconic, somehow have difficulties when singing live without mixers to hide the few errors, but Morrissey’s vocals are 100% spot on. Pure perfection. Yes, you hear a difference with the record, as he sometimes changes a word in the lyrics or deliberately changes the rhytm for a moment. But you can hear that there is a man standing who is 100% vocally perfect, singing as powerful, clear and perfect as on record.
What followed after those moments was a succession of big classics of both The Smiths and Morrissey solo, but Moz dared to take the risk of putting some lesser known songs in the setlist as well. Kudos for that, most artists only play the big classics during festivals while trying to attract new fans, while Morrissey dared to put in some songs that only the true fans know. Kudos! He played three B-sides even (!), including the hilarious “Don’t Make Fun Of Daddy’s Voice” and the self-assured catchy rocking “If You Don’t Like Me, Don’t Look At Me”. From the Smiths’ discography he did pick a few famous songs such as opener “Panic”, “How Soon Is Now” and “Girlfriend in a Coma”, but he also took “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” which may be not a total stranger but which is a riskier choice than classics like “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” or “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. But the confidence in which he brought those lesser known songs and still got the crowd going, and the charisma in which he dwelled over the stage, showed that this was a musician of world class.
He also didn’t forget his sense of humor. He was joking around with the crowd on how the Irish record stores forgot to order his new single and such, and he directed a few words to superfan Julia who tours the world to not miss one single concert. Also, he bared his chest 4 times, each time throwing the shirt in the audience (what a memorabilia for the one who cought those!) and putting on a new shirt. The 4 changes of custome went very smoothly though and gave the backing musicians the chance to take over the spotlight for a few seconds and do a solo. Especially the drummer and keyboard player were excellent, although credit also needs to go to the guitarist who did an exact replica of Johnny Marr’s riffs during the Smiths songs. Moz was in superb form, and it has to be said that his band was excellent as well. The first time he ripped off his chest was during the dramatic “Let Me Kiss You” when he bared his chest during the line “And you open your eyes and you see someone you physically despise”. Mozzer surely has all the humor you need and knows to not take himself too seriously!
The setlist differed greatly from the first concerts in Ireland four months ago. Not only there were the 3 b-sides and the lesser known Smiths song, there was also a completely different order of songs, with “At Last I Am Born” in the middle of the setlist this time instead of as last song. It meant that fans like me and my friends, who all saw him multiple times, were pleasantly surprised. Whereas many artists would play the same setlist every gig, Morrissey however treated his audience to a slightly different experience than last time in the Olympia Theatre.
Highlights of the show? In fact the whole show was a highlight, as rarely you hear such a perfection in the vocals and rarely you see an artist so charismatic and self-confident on stage. But the highlights to me were definitely the epic dramatic “Life Is A Pigsty” and the Middle Eastern eerie sounding “I Will See You In Far-Off Places” (a hidden reference to Bin Laden: “Destiny for some is to end lives” and “If the USA doesn’t bomb you, I believe I will see you somewhere safe, messing around and pulling faces”). It was very interesting to see how the keyboard player and guitarist created those tiny sound effects that gave the songs that little extra uniqueness, such as the sounds of running water and raindrops during “Life Is A Pigsty”. Keyboards, accordeon, trumphet (mainly during “I Wanna See The Boy Happy”), tribal drums and a pounding gong were all used to create tiny special background effects that lifted the overall song experience to a higher level.
Morrissey chose not to do an encore but to finish the whole concert in 1 haul, not letting the audience any time to rest or to get distracted away from the spectacle. He ended with a magical version of “How Soon Is Now” (an anthem for the lonely with, in my opinion, slightly autistic touch, containing the words “There’s a club you would like to go, you could possibly meet someone who really loves you, so you go and you stand on your own and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die” and “I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does”). The guitarist did a perfect copy of Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr’s original riff, and the song was given an extra long entrancing outro finished by a gong. The concert had lasted 105 minutes but was entrancing from the first second to the last.
We had seen a musician who was in top shape, who sang in pure perfection, who was charismatically moving on stage while flirting with the audience (and luckily I was extremely close to the stage) and who dared to constitute a setlist that contains classics and also some rarities for the true long-term fans. Risky choice, but a very good one. It was a great experience and we saw a Morrissey who was in the greatest shape in ages, ready to further conquer the world. The ringleader came and could say -in the language of his new home country Italy- “veni vidi vici”. The only thing I lacked was hearing “There Is A Light…” which is my Smiths favourite along with “How Soon Is Now” ; but after a concert of this extremely high level, this was not more than a detail.
Afterwards we had an afterparty in the Pravda bar in Dublin city center, where only Smiths and Morrissey songs were played. “The Queen Is Dead”, “How Soon Is Now”, “Hand In Glove”, “Girlfriend In A Coma”, “Haircutter On Fire”, “Cemetry Gates”, “Every Day Is Like Sunday”, “Frankly Mr Shankly”, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”, … they were all there.
A glorious and triumphant comeback to Dublin for Morrissey. Mission accomplished, and we can’t wait to hear more work from our ringleader.