By: Kevin Rolfe
Does one name stir up more emotion or thoughts than Morrissey? When you think of Cher, Bono, Sting or Adel and I feel like when those names come up you either think good, bad or indifferent thoughts. That’s impossible with Morrissey. You love him, you roll your eyes at some of the things he says, you passionately follow everything he stands for, you feel bad for his maudlin ways, you identify with those maudlin ways, you wonder if he’s ok, you envy his seemingly impenetrable sense of self confidence. You can’t really feel just one thing or the other with that guy. His persona, like his songs, produces a cornucopia of emotions. And such was the case on September 28, 2019, when Morrissey brought his Fall 2019 US Tour to The Great Saltair.
There was a bit of confusion on my part as to whether I was actually covering this show so by the time I realized I was, I got to the Saltair too late to see opening band, Interpol. I must admit I was pretty disappointed because I’ve always wanted to see them. Hopefully, they’ll come back to Utah on their own tour soon. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the Saltair was it wasn’t full. There can be a number of reasons for that. One, the tickets were a little pricey to this show. Two, Saltair is a ways out there and I’m sure casual Morrissey fans weren’t into the idea of trekking out to Magna for the show. Three, Morrissey plays what he wants to play regardless of what fans are hoping to hear. What I mean is, he doesn’t really do a “greatest hits” type of show. He plays a lot of songs off of his newer albums, and even when he dips into his catalog fromThe Smiths, sometimes they’ll be lesser known songs. And finally, these days, you never know if he’s going to show up.
Now I’ve seen Morrissey a few times and every time he’s been there. And from my recollection, all of his most recent dates in Utah have been kept. So my first thought when writing this review was to comment that this aspect of Morrissey’s live shows can be a bit overblown. But I kid you not, as I was writing this review I was alerted that Morrissey had canceled his Seattle date after protesters made a scene at his Portland show. So, maybe it’s not overblown. I feel really lucky now that he played our show here in Utah. The man has his reasons for canceling so often. I hope they’re legitimate because I have no doubt that he has a bunch of really disappointed fans in Seattle this week. Anyway, on to the show!
Because of the confusion, I walked into The Great Saltair in the middle of Morrissey’s third song in the set, “Hairdresser on Fire”. I learned later that I missed “You’re Going to Need Someone on Your Side” from Your Arsenal and “Alma Maters” from Maladjusted. Those are two songs I very much like, but I was really happy I hadn’t missed “Hairdresser on Fire”. I love that song! Morrissey then sang his first song Smiths song of the night, “Girl Afraid”. Following that song, Morrissey stated, “If you hated that song, you’ll despise this one.” He then sang maybe my favorite song from his solo career, “Suedehead”. The somewhat subdued crowd cheered excitedly for this one making sure to let Morrissey know that they in no way despised this song. He, of course, knew we would love it. I love his wit. Morrissey perfectly timed his lyric “Why send me silly notes” by taking an actual note from a fan’s hand.
Morrissey is currently touring promoting his covers album, California Son. Of course, because it’s Morrissey you would never know many of these songs were covers. Mostly because he covers them so richly in his style that they almost sound like their originals of his. The song “Lady Willpower” by Wilson Pickett and the Union Gap stood out to me because it was a song I recall hearing many times as a kid. One of my parents must have been Wilson Pickett fans. Morrissey mentioned that this song reached #2 on the charts and joked (I think) that it was played a lot here in Utah. He didn’t spend too much time on California Son. Just enough to peak my interest into streaming the album. I quite like it.
Morrissey told the audience, “Well, you’re responding quite well. We’ll stay.” The audience applauded with excitement and gratitude. Their applause rose, even more, when The Smiths classic, “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”. There was a noticeable uptick in the energy of the audience on this song. People were swaying their arms in the air and everyone was singing along. It was clear so many people connected with this song.
My favorite cover from Morrissey came when he played “Back on the Chain Gang” from “a skinhead from Akron, Ohio”. Jokingly referring to Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders who wrote that song. I’m not going to claim to get all of Morrissey’s jokes. This is probably one of my favorite covers of all time. Morrissey stays true to the original for the most part while at the same time giving it his personal touch. I was really excited he played it.
At this point in the show, I was excited to run into my friend Grace and her husband Joe. We quickly discussed how excited we were to be seeing Morrissey again. I asked her what she thought of the show and she said, “I’m not sure how old he is, but his voice still sounds so good! And his band…”. She went on to make a face stating that they were beyond words describing how awesome they were. I ender sentence with “…Amazing!”. And Morrissey’s band is incredible. They bring so much to the show. And Grace was right. Morrissey’s voice has held up impressively well. There are many 60 year old singers who have lost a bit of the ol’ pipes. But Morrissey sounds as good as he ever has.
Morrissey ended his set with another favorite of mine and clear favorite of the audience, “Everyday is Like Sunday” and “Jack the Ripper”. “Everyday is Like Sunday” got the biggest roar from the crowd up to that point. People sang at top voice, and for what felt like the first time of the evening there was some real movement from the audience. “Jack the Ripper” found Morrissey silhouetted by a blood red light and fog. It was eerie, dramatic and a spectacular thing to watch. The song ended with Morrissey taking off his shirt and throwing to the crowd then leaving the stage.
Morrissey and the band returned to the stage. Morrissey was now donning a glittery green jacket. He told the audience, “As the evening comes to a close, I just want to say…”, then he whispered “…I love you”. Right then the massive guitar riff from “How Soon is Now” began. The audience erupted, I grinned as big a grin as I’ve ever grinned. I know this is the biggest mainstream hit of The Smiths, but I don’t care, I love this song! Morrissey gave it all the energy and dramatics that it deserved. This was now the song with the loudest ovation. Morrissey left the stage to a deafening roar.
After the show I saw a young couple standing in the middle of the Saltair floor as most of the crowd headed to the exit doors. I walked up to them and asked if I could ask them a question. They told me I could and I asked them, “So where does your love of Morrissey come from? You’re so young! Is it from a parent, or did you discover him recently and fall in love with the music?” The young man said, “I heard him from her. And once I heard him I knew I had to come to this concert.”. The young woman pointed to a man who looked way too young to be her father but sure enough was her dad. The dad said, “I’ve been listening to Morrissey and The Smiths for so long! I’ve seen him so many times! She fell in love with them so I just had to bring her to this. He did not disappoint! It was obvious that he loves the Utah crowd.”
As I mentioned this was not a sold out show. The Saltair is a pretty big venue and well, perhaps the reasons I stated earlier came to play. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like there were only 500 people there or something. It was a really good turn out. But those who were there were the true fans. The fans that want to hear deep cuts as much as singles. The fans that risk showing up even if Morrissey might not. And the type of fans that have been devoted to Morrissey from the moment they heard him sing.