When Morrissey played his final gig as a member of The Smiths at London’s Brixton Academy in December 1986, fans left the triumphant performance with a bag full of memories to brag about for a lifetime to come: for one, it was the only time ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’ and ‘Shoplifters Of The World Unite’ were ever played live. Fast forward nearly 30 years and tonight’s possibly an even more seminal moment – the first of what Morrissey claims will be his final two UK shows ever.
Whether true or not, in the bar before the 56-year-old takes the stage fans are placing bets on what might go down. ‘The Queen Is Dead’ played in full? A reunion with Johnny Marr? Moz riding around on a massive gladioli canon?
Not quite, and, sorry, the next bit’s going to offend most, but that’s probably the point. Sadly, the most memorable moment of what’s possibly the final show by one of England’s greatest living artists is – deep breath – a close up image of fecal matter and vaginal discharge leaving the distended orifice of a very ill-looking battery chicken. It’s captioned very clearly with the words “fecal matter and vaginal discharge leaving the same orifice,” projected on a big screen as Morrissey stands in front, trudging through the most depressing rendition of ‘Meat Is Murder’ the world has ever borne witness to.
The image is exactly as horrific as it sounds, and forms part of a sequence of equally gut-churning animal torture footage that communicates Morrissey’s POV on our carnivorous instinct (just to be clear: he doesn’t like it). Some people cry, most just look at their feet – is this really how he wants us to remember him?
After being subjected to this crude pedagogy, it’s quite easy to forget the preceding hour of music. The first 20 minutes suggest we’re in for a vintage show. The tortured adoration of opener ‘Suedehead’ – his first solo single – turns the Hammersmith Apollo into a church in which everyone pays penance for their convoluted teenage years: we are united and sing as one. (Unlike Morrissey’s renaissance years after 2004’s ‘You Are The Quarry’, there are no first-timer teenagers here tonight).
Zipping through ‘Alma Matters’, ‘Ganglord’ and a successful re-wiring of ‘Speedway’ that sees keyboardist Gustavo Manzur take over the vocal reigns and sing it in Spanish, it’s apparent that despite his recent illness and perpetual Morrissey-branded life difficulties, the band are tight-knit, well-trained, and perform with vigour.
But then, just as it’s getting good, the hits dry up. With the exception of ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’, the set is made up mostly of recent not-decents like the lumbering ‘Oboe Concerto’, which mulches on with all the grace of a man trampling mashed potato barefoot in an old barrel. Here the truth of Morrissey’s anticlimactic bowing-out hits us: all these years spent alienating people with stunts involving things like chicken’s vaginas has lost him our favour, and if he’s reluctant to celebrate all the life-changing music he’s given us, if this really is the end – well, what difference does it make?