By The Festival Lawyer //
God Dammit, San Jose. This is why we can’t have nice things.
After months of speculation as to whether he would pull the ultimate Morrissey and cancel the very first show of this tour, Morrissey not only showed up in San Jose but gave an inspired live performance.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Morrissey show without controversy and chaos. During his encore, Moz was performing the song, “One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell” when fans began a stage invasion. To be honest, this isn’t a particularly unexpected occurrence. Although not exactly a Justin Bieber concert, storming the stage pretty much happens at EVERY Morrissey show.
However, this time, there was a “rush and a push” and a figure got thrown off the stage and tumbled backwards into the audience. For a moment, I thought San Jose was going to be the answer to the Rock and Roll trivia question “In what city did idiots accidentally kill Morrissey?” But I quickly realized it was one of the audience members being pushed back into the crowd by security. Morrissey himself had already been whisked backstage.
The show ended in confusion, with the music stopping abruptly and the lights suddenly coming on. I heard some scattered booing and then people slowly filed out. There was a vague feeling among audience members that we had all been cheated somehow. In other words, it was the quintessential Morrissey ending to a Morrissey concert.
You can see some of the chaos here in this fan-made video:
I was told by someone I trust that Morrissey was actually knocked to the ground and that he and the band took the incident quite seriously. So much so that Morrissey stayed in the Green Room until after the venue was totally cleared and he was escorted out to his bus.
The ending was really a shame given how well the show had gone. Morrissey had cancelled the last 6 (!) shows in the Bay Area and had not performed here since 2009. In fact, a whole lot of Bay Area Morrissey fans passed on the show. Most feared another no show and worried that Morrissey was just trying to find a new and more elaborate way to troll us.
Those who risked it and came were rewarded by seeing Morrissey in rare form. His band sounded tight and his voice was wonderful and expressive. He seemed relaxed and …dare I say it?….happy. I don’t mean Pharrell level happy but at least Morrissey level happy.
During his performance of the song “Speedway” it almost felt like Morrissey was trying somehow to apologize to the Bay Area for past snubs. He held a fan-made sign over his heart while reaching out to the crowd and singing, “In my own strange way, I’ve always been true to you.” If not an actual apology it was at least a “It’s a new tour and a new album, let’s move forward” type of moment with the audience.
Morrissey seems to have a more direct political urgency to his shows these days. Playing a song like “The National Front Disco” (about a young man’s drift into racism and extremism) seemed like an especially timely choice given the huge week that racists had last week. (Cliven Bundy, Donald Sterling, random dude throwing banana at soccer player et al)
After singing the final lyrics to “Ganglord” (“Protect and serve, but what they really mean is get back to the ghetto”), Morrissey remarked, “You know it’s true..” He seemed to want to make sure audiences realized that he wrote the song about police brutality in a “non-fiction” kind of way.
But of course, Morrissey’s biggest political cause has always been Animal Rights. He played the Smiths classic, “Meat is Murder” while some pretty shocking images of animals being slaughtered were flashed behind him. But I suppose shocking was the point.
Oddly, fans leaving the venue were greeted by two street vendors selling…wait for it…hot dogs wrapped in bacon. It was like some kind of crazy irony cherry topping off the sundae of the performance. I didn’t order one even though they smelled fucking delicious. It just seemed disrespectful after what I had just seen and heard. (PS did I mention they were wrapped in bacon?…bacon freaking hot dogs!)
Speaking of bacon, Morrissey performed an astonishing version of “Life is a Pigsty”. Morrissey once said that writing songs for The Smiths was like “setting his diary to music.” A song like “Life” has that same kind of personal intensity. At one point, Morrissey implored the audience, “Can you stop the pain?” while falling to his knees as if he couldn’t handle the emotions being expressed. In fact, much of the set list focused on the darker, more brooding songs of his back catalogue.
Morrissey also debuted 3 new songs from his album. The best of the bunch I thought was “World Peace Is None of Your Business”.
Overall, Morrissey was terrific. If I had any complaint, it was about his set list. I almost felt a kind of strain from the audience. It was like we were enjoying what we were hearing but hoping for one of those “I can’t believe he is playing this song” type of moments.
Of course I could be attributing my own feelings to that of the audience. I had already alerted the concert goers around me that I had a short list of about 5 classics songs in my head that would cause me to “lose my shit” if he played them.
Morrissey did open with “Hand in Glove” and later played the beautiful Smiths song “Asleep”. It’s a Smiths song that he has never performed live as a solo artist before. (In terms of nerd love, Smiths fans hearing a new Smiths song being performed live is roughly equivalent to the joy Star Wars fans get upon hearing news of a new Star Wars movie.) But this was very much NOT a “Greatest Hits” type of show.
All in all it was a great night. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed a bit by the actions of a few knuckleheads. As a person who considers music their happy place, it sucks when someone cuts short a great show through their own jackassery. Serious downgrade for the audience.
But as Nick Laquintano, who performs with The Smiths/Morrissey Tribute Band This Charming Band, points out, this kind of thing happens A LOT:
Of course you never want to downplay any incidences of violence at live shows, but I do feel as if I’ve seen much crazier stage invasion situations at past Morrissey shows that didn’t get anywhere near the press attention this one is getting. In particular I remember a show in Modesto back in 2007 that was really scary as people were jumping on stage from all angles and it all ended with Morrissey getting clotheslined by somebody. I don’t remember hearing much about that incident after it happened. Either way it is a shame what happened in San Jose and thank goodness no one got hurt.”
That was my reaction to the incident as well. Headlines like “SHOW CUT SHORT AS MORRISSEY ATTACKED BY FAN ONSTAGE” miss the point entirely. I’m not trying to say that what happened wasn’t serious. This kind of thing shouldn’t happen. Live performers should always be safe. But longtime fans recognize there is a segment of Morrissey fans who are kind of like drunken St. Bernards. They want to show their love, but somehow just end up knocking you down as you open the door and accidentally rip your work suit instead. Dumb.
Fortunately, no one was hurt. And since no one was hurt, I would file this under The Festival Lawyer’s concert rule that, “Any ending to a concert that leaves you with a good story is by definition a good concert.”
Hand in Glove
That’s How People Grow Up
I Have Forgiven Jesus
World Peace Is None of Your Business
I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris
Yes, I Am Blind
The Bullfighter Dies
Life Is a Pigsty
Everyday Is Like Sunday
Earth Is the Loneliest Planet
Trouble Loves Me
Meat Is Murder
First of the Gang to Die
The Youngest Was the Most Loved
I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday
The National Front Disco
One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell