When Rick Astley & Blossoms announced their surprise collaboration performing the songs of The Smiths, Johnny Marr took to Twitter to laugh it off as a meme gone too far. Morrissey published a think piece written in the same clunky, propagandistic tone that the North Koreans use to pitch Kim Jong Un as the most important man in the world.
But the fact both men felt the need to comment suggests they knew there might always be the risk of what tonight’s show eventually proves – this is the best Smiths gig since December 12t 1986, when Morrissey and Marr last took the stage together, and possibly boasts one of the best Smiths live setlists ever.
It was first teased at Blossoms’ own headline show a few weeks back, when the Stockport band brought out Astley – the 1980s’ other iconic bequiffed warbler – to cover ‘This Charming Man’ and ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ for their encore. The footage went viral and, at truly internet speed, two full shows were scheduled for London & Manchester.
When Astley tonight tells the crowd, “We had a mad dream and the dream came true,” he speaks not only for those on stage, but for the audience too – who ever imagined we would get to hear the songs that saved our lives, played so perfectly, with such back-to-back intensity, in a ‘proper’ venue like this? The singing, swaying crowd is so large and engaged that it transcends the trappings of a mere tribute act better suited to the pub circuit.
‘Ask’, ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’. With the exception of a few ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’-era singles, every beat of the Smiths canon is present and correct – all played with the love and attention that affirms the mathematical equation that 5 x Blossoms + 1 x Rick Astley = 1 x Marr + 1 x (Morrissey – Problematic Tendencies).
Performing together as one, the band channel Marr’s quiet, confident energy as the jangling melodies ooze through the strings, while Astley’s voice (and quiff) is a fine substitute for Morrissey’s. Humble, unpretentious and clearly amazed to be performing, he comes across like Moz’s more agreeable younger brother, made from the same basic DNA, but who you’d much rather go down the pub with.
While Morrissey solo shows these days feel evermore ‘Please, Please, Please….’ tonight it’s Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, as we finally get what we want this time: Manchester’s finest and an ’80s icon. No drama, no baggage, no problematic behaviour. Just the romance, wit and original spirit of these wonderful songs given the undiluted outings they deserve, with gladioli in abundance.
There are only two people on the planet that could do this better, but until they patch things up, Blossoms, Rick Astley, and a couple of thousand loving fans, all singing in unison, is today the most perfect version of The Smiths you could possibly ask for.
Blossoms and Rick Astley played:
‘What Difference Does It Make?’
‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’
‘Reel Around the Fountain’
‘Hand in Glove’
‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’
‘The Boy With the Thorn in His Side’
‘Girlfriend in a Coma’
‘Well I Wonder’
‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’
‘William, It Was Really Nothing’
‘Barbarism Begins at Home’
‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’
‘How Soon Is Now?’
‘This Charming Man’
‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’