“On the drive from Canberra, we saw some horrible road kill. We saw five kangaroos, two wombats. And Malcolm Turnbull,” said Morrissey with a wry grin.
“You see, there is some good in everything.”
This was just one of the many memorable moments from Morrissey’s visit to Wollongong’s Entertainment Centre last night.
The second last show on his Australian tour, it was one that visited other smaller cities (such as Newcastle and Canberra), and skipped Sydney altogether. While the musical enigma didn’t sell out the intimate venue, he drew a passionate crowd. As soon as he sauntered on stage like some perfectly coiffed messiah, the charismatic songbird had the crowd captivated.
Playing a set namely made up of songs from his solo catalogue peppered with a few The Smiths hits, it was a truly career-spanning performance. In the first half, he whisked through the set smashing out songs like Suedehead, Alma Matters, Speedway and, to the crowd’s evident glee, the cracking The Smiths classic How Soon Is Now?
Like a fine wine, Morrissey proved he has ripened with age. The band was flawlessly tight and the front man’s unique warble was as velvety as ever. As the band mixed up instruments between themselves, Morrissey also swapped the spotlight to play tambourine or the maracas while keyboardist Gustavo Mazur had a go on lead vocals for a song or two. Quite the visual spectacle, all of the songs were also accompanied by old photographs, stirring video content and political commentary. One particularly aesthetically pleasing moment occurred in Jack the Ripper as fog spewed from the stage, Morrissey appeared as a divine-looking silhouette.
Infamous for his passion for human and animal rights activism, it’s no surprise that he also took advantage of his time on stage to educate as well as entertain. Firstly, the 2006 B-side number Ganglord was backed by confronting and uncensored footage of police brutality involving both humans and animals. As distressing as it was to witness already, it was especially sobering when accompanied by the lyrics, “They say to protect and to serve, but what they really mean is ‘get back to the ghetto!’”. In another political quip, an image of Prince William and Kate Middleton with the caption “United King-Dumb” was the backdrop for The World Is Full of Crashing Bores.
1985’s Meat Is Murder was also accompanied by a montage of nauseatingly graphic footage of animal slaughter in the meat industry. “For the sake of the planet and everything on it. Meat is shit,” declared Morrissey, before the familiar whirs of abattoir machinery and animal cries opened the track. For this vegetarian, it was preaching to the converted but it didn’t make it any less confronting. He does a good job at making his point, though, as many fans hid their faces in their hands or watch wide-eyed and in horror before the screen was emblazoned with “What’s your excuse now?” in large letters.
One of the more controversial moments of the night came to pass during The Bullfighter Dies, though, a song that reflects on the cruelty of bullfighting. Not even half way through the first verse, Morrissey and the band came to a halt after two punters into the front got into a row. Rather than letting security deal with it, Morrissey gave his microphone to the girl involved. To mixed jeers, she explained that some twat next to her had used the song to bring up (and apparently, laugh about) the cruelty of the horse racing industry. Obviously a heated topic for many, especially as we’re in the midst of the Spring race season, her response was to punch him in the face.
“Can we continue?” asked Morrissey, a little deflated. But rather than using the opportunity to speak out against the horse racing or bull fighting industry, Morrissey obviously decided that the best way to keep the peace was to go on with the show and skip the track. So, with that, they quickly moved on to It’s Hard to Walk Tall When You’re Small, but a tension hung in the air for the rest of the night.
Closing the night with a single encore of What She Said, it was clear that Wollongong wouldn’t have objected to a few more songs from the legend by the time he left the stage. Much more than an evening of entertainment, Morrissey was thought-provoking, confronting and controversial. And as if we’d expect anything less.