Morrissey - Live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Live in Philadelphia (2016)

live show

“As the world is speeding up, some things are getting better,” Morrissey announced to the crowd at his sold out Philly show on September 22. He then paused before snarling, “But Spain is bringing us all down.” The Spanish flag flashed on the jumbo screen behind him and he then slowly raised two defiant middle fingers high into the air. With great relish, he then sang the refrain from one of his newest songs, “Hoooray! Hoooray! The bullfighter dies!” Just to add to the vitriol, an image of a bullfighter getting gored then replaced Spain’s flag as Morrissey’s backdrop.

Perhaps to the dismay of some of the audience, Morrissey focused on his political songs rather than his tales of love and woe. And, while some may have simply wanted the crooner to stick to his love-jams, the fact is, the hard political angle of his show both exemplified why Morrissey is exceptional and also made for a truly moving experience.

In fact, the whole show seemed to have a great deal of calculation with Morrissey intending to create a whole experience, rather than merely a list of songs. Quite fittingly, the show was at the famed Tower Theatre (actually in Upper Darby, not Philly), the same locale where one of Moz’s idols, Bowie, recorded the famous ode-to-soul David Live. Before Morrissey even came out, a montage of music videos blasted across the giant screen backing the stage. Videos of the Sex Pistols, Ramones, New York Dolls, Leo Reed, Tina Turner, Gene Kelly, drag comedians, and others flickered between each other, seeming to present the components of what makes Morrissey the kind of guy that he is. All the videos were pulled from the classic era of 70s art-rock except one number, which was some sort of modern Hip Hop video which showed four young , suburban teenagers lip-synching to a pretty hardcore cut… is Morrissey a Hip Hop head, too?

The videos suddenly ended and Morrissey came out with his band, all of whom shared a quick football huddle. Then, the band snapped into one of Morrissey’s biggest hits, “Suedehead.” But, the opening salvo was a bit of sly misdirection, because for the remainder of the show, Morrissey’s political perspective was at the forefront.

“World Peace is None of Your Business” was given a muscular, energetic rendition with Moz relishing in the low rumble of the song’s extended refrain. And, as he rode through those baritone notes, it was clear how powerful Morrissey’s voice really is. It’s one thing to sound good on record, but it’s another to have soul and skill live. Morrissey had both in spades and his voice was rich, powerful, and earnest. A lot of singers may have control over their vocal chords, but few can rise above mechanical delivery- whereas Morrissey, as he hissed “work hard and meekly pay your taxes!” had a real sense of anger and terror in his voice. Really, with Sinatra, Martin, and Davis passed away, and Bennet and Jones ready to retire, Morrissey might be the last true crooner that we have (and frankly, he’s better than at least one of those guys I just mentioned.)

For “Ganglord,” Morrissey amplified his message. Despite the song’s soft delivery, as the singer detailed stories of police abuse, images of citizens (and animals) being shot dead by police officers played in the background. Noticeably, as he strung out words, the film seemed to linger on the dead bodies of people, who just moments before, had been begging for their lives. This message is timeless, but it seemed partially apt considering the past few years.

And then, at the concert’s midsection, Morrissey went all in. After establishing the tone with an ambient drone, the band set into a version of the Smith’s “Meat is Murder.” While the original has a sort of thin spookiness to it, live, the Morrissey band went hard and heavy, so much that, at times, the song felt like a drone metal or classic goth track. As Morrissey howled “and death for no reason is murderrrrrr…. explicit images of animals being butchered played behind him. Cows were pushed into grinding machines where their heads were slowly ripped from their bodies, baby chicks were tossed into crushing gears, goats were flipped on the backs and had their stomachs slit open, and pigs stumbled across the slaughterhouse floor after having their necks slit.

The fact is, the scenes were so brutal and grotesque, I wanted to look away, but I knew I had to watch. The audience too, was confused, not actually sure how to react to the horror being re-enacted in front of them. Then, to really drive the point home, where the song would normally end, the band continued their instrument drone for an additional five minutes as the bloody scenes continued on the sixty foot tall screen. It was unsettling, and honestly left me quite shaken. No doubt, Morrissey is biased and they may be some counter arguments to his point, but the fact is, these horrible scenes were real.

After the song ended, the audience seemed confused and bewildered. Perhaps acknowledging that his creation was not meant to be “fun,” Morrissey let his band play a short baroque piano number before launching into his biggest hit (and non-political more or less) “Every day is like Sunday” as a sort of reward to his distressed fans. Yet, it baffled me that many in the audience seemed to immediately forget about the previous song. Honestly it took me a few songs to even be able to focus on the music again.

Truthfully, this is why Morrissey rises above his contemporaries. How many so-called “political” bands really make their shows an all encompassing experience, only to purposefully cause discomfort and horror in the audience? And, how many so-called political bands just play the hits? Morrissey is willing to put money where his mouth is, and this is why he is a true artist. He might not be nice, and he might be a diva, and he might smug, and he might even be insufferable sometimes, but this is why Morrissey is still here and this is why he’s good: when he is right, he’s right and he's not afraid to say it.