Live Review: Morrissey at Benaroya Hall 7/21/15

Live Reviews
Janice Headley
photos by Dave Lichterman (view set)

Oh, Morrissey. So much to answer for.

When your career spans as many decades as his, there's bound to be different stages: from the roguish lad who fronted legendary '80s Manchester band The Smiths, to the silver fox solo artist who is strangely beloved in Mexico. Last week, Morrissey brought all of that and more to the gigantic, three-balconied room of Benaroya Hall.

There was no opening act, which wasn't too surprising considering what happened recently with Kristeen Young. Instead, we were treated to a montage of music videos, similar to the ones that ran last year at The Moore Theatre (New York Dolls, '70s disco, etc.), but it was TOO LOUD. A sound-geek KEXP co-worker mentioned that Benaroya Hall, though beautiful, doesn't know what to do with rock music, since it's traditionally an orchestral hall. This rang painfully true, pun intended.

Morrissey and his barrel-chested fleet of musicians came out on stage. "We are the international, white trash jet set," he intoned in that infamous Mancunian accent. With that, they kicked off into his 1988 debut solo single "Suedehead" (i.e. vintage Morrissey). At the end of the song, he shouted "Gracias" to the audience (i.e. modern-day Morrissey).

I couldn't help but notice: was that actor Bruce Lee on the drumhead? Has Bruce been on the entire tour with them, or do they pay tribute to a different deceased local celebrity at every stop? Is it the tour manager's job to research who's buried at each city? Do they then procure a portrait on plastic for the drumhead? How did they choose from all the dead actors when the tour reached Hollywood?

On that note, I continue to find Morrissey's backline endlessly amusing. At the aforementioned show at The Moore, I was fixated on the giant gong that hung behind the drummer. Do they truly travel with that? Do they rent one in each city? Man, I feel sorry for the tour manager.

Well, at this show, the gong hung proudly yet again (used to great ominous effect in "Meat is Murder"), but his musicians also used an accordion, a bassoon, and... a didgeridoo! The wind instrument of Indigenous Australians! Is this the result of some backstage gamble? "Well, Boz, you lost the bet, so you've gotta use... a didgeridoo! No, I don't know where to get one. Ask our tour manager..."

Anyway, let's get to the number one question I've been asked since the show, and the answer is, "Meat is Murder" and "The Queen is Dead." He introduced a song teasing, "This is called 'What Difference Does it Make'," but instead, he and his bandmates tore into the 1987 Strangeways, Here We Come single "Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before." Pretty cheeky, Moz.

Of his solo work, he chose a wide array of tracks from his discography, spotlighting his most recent release, last year's World Peace Is None Of Your Business. He dug deep, including cuts like "Yes I Am Blind" off 1989's Bona Drag, and "Angel, Angel, Down We Go Together" from Viva Hate.

He even included the b-side track "Ganglord," a 2006 Ringleader Of The Tormentors-era single that re-appeared on his recent rarities collection Swords. It's an aggressive track about police violence, with Morrissey pleading "save me" over and over again. And as the band performed the sinister-sounding song, footage of recent police violence played on the screen above the stage. It was horrific. Of course, it was. Nothing was censored. No one was dancing in the aisles anymore; instead everyone at Benaroya stared numbly, gasping with each strike, kick, and punch doled out by the men in uniform to everyday civilians.

There's no doubt that I appreciate how Morrissey uses his fame as a platform to speak out about causes he feels strongly about. I think that activism is part of why a lot of fans love him. With that said, good GOD, it was literally gut-wrenching to watch. When they finished, it felt strange to applaud. The musicianship, surely, but the videos? Oh, hell, no. It was hard to enjoy the next song on the set list ("Speedway," the closing track on 1994's Vauxhall and I, featuring keyboardist Gustavo Manzur singing in Spanish), because everyone was still processing what they just saw. And this was just four songs into the set list, folks!

That wasn't all, because of course it wasn't: later on in the set, when he performed "Meat is Murder," he screened footage of animals being tortured and slaughtered. Again, nothing was censored. It was gorier than Saw VII or whatever part that franchise is up to. So, just when Morrissey had softened the blow from "Ganglord," he sickened my stomach all over again with this montage. Oh, Morrissey. Just what you wanted, I'm sure. (And, for those wondering, Benaroya did indeed go "meat-free" for the evening at Davids & Co, the in-house restaurant.)

He followed that gut-puncher with the soothing "Everyday Is Like Sunday," which definitely lightened the mood at Benaroya. An overly-affectionate couple in the row in front of us seemed oblivious to the lyrics "Come, Armageddon, Come!" -- instead, the guy proceeded to rub his girlfriend's ass so fervently, you got the impression he thought a magic genie would come out with a fart and grant him three wishes. What the fuck, dude. Up in the balcony, I spied a fan thrusting his fist with "Every! Day! Is! Like! Sunday!"... and then I watched as he sheepishly lowered said fist, not knowing the next line. (It's "win yourself a cheap tray," buddy.)

It was a roller-coaster of emotions, but we weren't done yet, no sirree. Morrissey and men returned for an encore with a rousing rendition of The Smiths' "The Queen is Dead," flashing a photo of the lady in question, flipping the bird. Later, the screen showed Kate Middleton and Prince William above the caption "United King-dumb." Not a huge surprise from a musician who's been criticizing the Royal Family since he picked up a mic.

And then with no rhyme or reason, ladies and gentlemen, Morrissey tore off his shirt and flung it into the audience.

Yep, I think we're done here. Good night, and thank you

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