Morrissey 25: Live

Tom Seymour

As Morrissey strides onstage at the start of James Russell’s slavish concert-tribute, that familiar above-it-all look firmly in place, you fear that once again he got last pick of the ageing-indie dress-up box.

He’s wearing a bright floral shirt, baggy jeans and pointy shoes, weighed down with a bling-chain somewhere between Pete Doherty and Ol' Dirty Bastard (it comprises of both dog tags and a gigantic Christian cross). The short back and sides and flowing quiff now surrounds a bald patch. However much veggie food he packs away, the mid-life spread long-ago softened his signature hipster skinniness.

He’s flanked by a band of tight T-shirted, lantern-jawed macho-Latinos, as if he has toured the slammers of south-central LA to find his perfect Audioslave tribute band.

This gig, filmed at the Hollywood High School in Los Angeles on 2 March 2013, and the first authorised Morrissey film for nine years, was put on to mark 25 years of Morrissey as a solo performer. Or, to look at in a maybe more clear-eyed way, 25 years since his relationship with Johnny Marr ended and The Smiths disbanded. That time has been marked by choice quotes to the national press (he said to The Guardian: "You can't help but feel that the Chinese people are a subspecies,: while he decided to sue the NME after they ran the quote: "The gates of England are flooded. The country's been thrown away…the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears"), as well as constant legal wrangling with his former band members over royalties, while signing off on ever-ingenious ways of repackaging The Smith’s back-catalogue.

While his quarter century as a solo artist has been productive – he’s knocked out nine solo albums – this performance goes some way to underline how few decent tunes he’s actually managed to write, and how reliant he remains on material he penned in his early twenties (he’s now 54). After a nervous opening salvo, the band tear into "Irish Blood, English Heart". "First of The Gang to Die" (about his mates marrying off one-by-one, leaving Morrissey holding the torch alone), is a dynamic, honest missive to his own life, while "Everyday is Like Sunday" is a ballad packed with misplaced, sorrowful romanticism. But a part of you, maybe the still ill part, sits and patiently waits for him to get on with it and sing "A Boy With a Thorn With His Side" and "Meat is Murder".

Yet any moving moments in the gig are condemned by the testes-squeezing embarrassment of Morrissey’s fans, to whom he keeps on handing the microphone. “I owe my life to you and my children’s lives too. Thankyou for being so open-hearted. Thankyou for living,” says one of them, before the object of her fascination dismissively snatches the mic back to sing another middling number.

Morrissey’s charm existed once in a particularly strange, particularly hard to define sense of humour, like a Brian De Palma movie or a Joey Barton Twitter-rant. If his songs were melancholic, lyrics like “England is mine - it owes me a living/But ask me why, and I'll spit in your eye,” could make you laugh in the dark. Here though, he sings them with a dour and joyless sincerity. I’d venture he once loved feigning indifference, playing it louche while his heart slammed inside him. What does he get from it now?

No-one, not even Bowie, has so fiercely maintained their cult of personality quite like Morrissey. For that, he’s deserving of our interest. But maybe he needs someone to challenge it, to keep it sharp and defined. Maybe he needed a director who doesn’t just love him, but is strong enough to stand up to him. Instead, veteran gig director James Russell focuses slavishly on Moz’s histrionics, with an occasional cut away to a supporting musician. It’s complacent dedication; Mozzer needs someone willing to rough him up a bit.

'Morrissey 25: Live' is in cinemas from 23 August.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @TomSeymour

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