Sydney Harbour by night is a breathtaking sight on any given evening, but during the annual Vivid festival it transforms into something utterly spectacular. The reflection of colours as beams of light dance upon the water and the psychedelic mélange’ that morphs and twists upon the sails of the Opera House lend a surreal otherworldly vibe to Circular Quay. The choice of Morrissey as Vivid’s headliner seems incongruous in these surroundings. The famously dour singer’s work recalls the bleakness of industrial Manchester, and conjures a far more intimate bedsit palette of colours than the hazy rainbow on display tonight. Yet the excitement in the air is palpable.
Tonight is his third night in Sydney, the Opera House having become his court for the week, with the run of shows culminating in tomorrow’s finale’. He has come to know this space, and his band, the stage.
Moz has been flitting between various opening numbers throughout the run, and tonight we win the jackpot as he takes to the stage, announces that ‘a cyclone is coming’ and then launches into a machine gun version of 'The Queen is Dead'. Grown men are openly weeping and / or failing to conceal their Christmas morning style glee as their boyhood is revisited, writ large in frantic toms and jangling guitar. The title track from new LP World Peace is None of Your Business follows, and it must be said, works far better live than on the LP - with the live drums adding more warmth and dramatic heft to the piece.
It has been said that there are no bad seats in the Opera House and while this is true, when going to see Morrissey the cheap seats really are your friend. From a distance he retains his enigma, undisturbed by sweat or jowls and one can focus more intently on what truly makes Morrissey a star. More than his famously truculent temperament, outrageous statements or seemingly effortless affinity with the disenfranchised, it’s his voice.
It’s a voice that has scarcely changed since he first reeled around the fountain with Johnny Marr all those years ago. It is by turns flamboyant and fragile with that rich unmistakable tone remaining its constant. The world may have changed but Morrissey still wears his heart on his sleeve, or perhaps, his larynx. And it’s beautiful.
‘Ganglord’ follows, a powerful rendition lent extra gravity by the footage of police brutality projected behind the band in 40 foot widescreen clarity. In some instances throughout the evening these selections of imagery will become distracting, as they highlight issues that make the occasion of a rock concert, even one held at the Opera House, seem indulgent and frivolous in comparison. But music has always had the power to lend weight to a cause, and Morrissey has never shied away from such rallying.
The opening refrain of ‘Stop me if Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ is the cue for everyone to go apeshit crazy, offering some much needed pace to a set that has begun to meander. And that’s the main stumbling block with the show as a whole really. Perhaps in order to ensure his range is best catered to, Morrissey has selected a setlist that ambles along at an almost uniform mid-tempo throughout. Plentiful latter day album tracks and a heavy focus on material from World Peace… mean the show never ascends into the exuberant, with highlights being as muted as the ‘come armageddon…’ refrain that heralds the chorus of ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’. A highlight it is though, igniting a hands in the air sing-along and causing countless dad quiffs to ruffle and sway throughout the hall.
The braying of cattle announces the arrival of 'Meat is Murder', the final song in the trinity of Smiths tracks aired tonight. The stage is bathed in a sinister blood red as the imagery takes another turn for the disturbing. The selection of footage accompanying the track on the last tour was confronting enough in tandem with the bombast of the reinvented track, but this time around they have upped the ante. This shit is harrowing. Morrissey is not out to entertain us with this one. It judders and squeals as it explodes into a climactic coda, the percussion echoing the relentless machinery, and the guitars the wails of animals decimated by the steel teeth of the slaughterhouse. It is an undeniably powerful statement and even though I knew what was coming, it still haunts me as I write this.
Oddly enough, Morrissey has been sporting what appears to be a blue football jersey throughout the show, which begs the question ‘How on earth is he going to rip that off’? It simply wouldn’t be a Morrissey gig unless we get to see his nipples, and our question is answered moments later as, after ‘Now My Heart is Full’, the band take their bows and bound offstage so Morrissey can change into some airier, more flimsily buttoned attire.
An oddly subdued version of the usually buoyant ‘First of the Gang to Die’ rounds out the show, with drummer Matt Walker strangely using a shaker in lieu of his snare drum, scuppering the tempo and leaving me with a severe set of musical blue balls.
…and then BAM! It’s nipple time. The reaction is ecstatic, as though his areole have healing properties, and perhaps they do. Twin Haloes with a need to breathe. The usual rules have never seemed to apply to Morrissey. And for that we should all still be thankful, our lives would be poorer without him.