Morrissey + Doll and the Kicks @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 23rd October 2009

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“Against all medical advice” Morrissey‘s album of B-sides “Swords” is released next Monday.

This he told us in prophetic vein on the opening night of the tour of the same name; holding a copy of the vinyl aloft and insinuating in his sardonic way that of course no-one would be interested. This is in spite of the fact that he must know many of the audience will be buying it in every available format and probably in multiple copies. Such is the loyalty and dedication of the Morrissey fan these days!

Sometimes that loyalty gets pushed to the limits when things don’t quite go as planned, particularly for those who travel all over the world to see him. The genesis of this tour is a good illustration being a mixture of new dates and rearranged gigs from the Years Of Refusal tour which had been cancelled due to illness. But, as the argument goes, the highlights are so bright they totally obliterate the low points. Triumphant outings at the Barrowland Ballroom, Brixton Academy and his 50th Birthday bash in Manchester really raised the bar earlier this year so perhaps it is a brave move to go back on the road with a tour nominally based on lesser known songs so soon after.

But then this tour always had the potential to be different; all those b-sides, a new keyboard player and maybe a chance to produce a set list with a few surprises in store.

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One thing had not changed – Doll and the Kicks have been retained as support for this this tour. They did well to deliver an typically energetic set to a sparse audience but the “Sympathy Hall” as Morrissey called it offered them few favours; they come into their own in the more traditional venues. The irony was that for the first time in ages the sound for the support was excellent!

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Morrissey will always give it everything and tonight was no exception; but the best of his outings need an element of audience participation. What he really needs is a crowd that will reciprocate and really get stuck in. He seems to feed off the atmosphere and at its height he really can produce some blistering performances.

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Unfortunately from the opening “This Charming Man” it was obvious that it was not going to be one of those really exceptional nights. Not that this wasn’t a fine show but a venue like the Symphony Hall doesn’t quite generate that required atmosphere. Tonight everyone stood in the seats with the venue security strung across the front of the stage creating a nervous barrier between Morrissey and the crowd broken only by the flailing arms of people trying to touch their hero. It wasn’t that the presence of the security was intimidating – just irritating.

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The set list turned out to be the usual mixture of the new and the old with the customary smattering of Smiths songs to keep happy those who just seem to turn up just to hear the old material. Thankfully, Death At Ones Elbow, Cemetery Gates and Nowhere Fast made a refreshing change from the standard fare although This Charming Man, purposefully reduced to some sort of Lust For Life incarnation, and How Soon Is Now are still in the set. Personally I would rather hear more from his solo body of work than these two but I suppose you can’t please everyone.

Teenage Dad On His Estate, Because Of My Poor Education and Ganglord may well be B-sides but they are just about vintage Morrissey and more from Swords would have been welcome.

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I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris and When Last I Spoke to Carol (“The single that almost was…”) harked back to the highs of the recent tour but it was becoming obvious that Morrissey was not quite himself. He introduced Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself? With a cryptic “the funny thing is we almost didn’t make it tonight…oh dear”

Morrissey is a gift for those who watch body language and through Is It Really So Strange? and
….Crashing Bores he was full of the shoulder shrugging and comic gurning that are basically alarm signals to those die-hard fans on the front row.

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“Life Is A Pigsty” is an epic song but even from the beginning it was apparent that something was not quite right. Missed words, a struggle to hit the notes, a reluctance to face the audience and a hasty retreat from the stage produced that familiar sinking feeling. There was a host of raised eyebrows and knowing looks saying “here we go again”. The last of the Pigsty feedback died away and Boz Boorer and the rest of the band were ushered off the stage by the agitated crew.

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This was an unplanned exit and I’m sure that songs were cut. In the past that would have been our lot but not tonight. Stunned silence was broken with a few isolated pockets of Morrissey chants and then just as quickly he and the band were all back for the customary bow! He seemed quite up for it quipping “Well morphine is just kicking in, so there is just time for me to thank you. And to say for God’s sake, hold on to your friends”. First Of The Gang To Die, usually the signal for mayhem, was a bit low key with only one brave soul managing to storm the stage. At the end Morrissey backed away acknowledging the crowd but looking a bit sheepish.

So now on to the almost familiar routine of ringing box offices to see whether the journeys are worth it. Next stop Swindon!

Set list:
This Charming Man
Black Cloud
Gang Lord
How Soon Is Now?
I’m OK By Myself
Because Of My Poor Education
Death At One’s Elbow
Teenage Dad On His Estate
I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris
The Loop
Nowhere Fast
When Last I Spoke to Carol
Cemetery Gates
One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell
Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself?
Is It Really So Strange?
The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores
Life Is A Pigsty
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First Of The Gang To Die

Review – Ian Gelling

Photos – Steph Colledge

Note: The day after this gig Morrissey collapsed and was taken to hospital. We at Birmingham Live wish him a speedy recovery.

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