If you’ve come here expecting a critical patting down of Morrissey’s character, behaviour or general antics then we’d kindly point you to twitter/threads/whatever the flavour of the week is and the steady discourse the topic already gets. Everything you need to know about how he conducts himself comes from the man himself. In fact after a handful of songs into the first of two performances at the Liverpool Empire Theatre he’s already managed to sum up our current relationship with him. He’d “rather be famous than righteous” and we love him “slightly less than we used to” because of it.
The Liverpool Empire, normally reserved for theatrical performances (although the next two nights provide their fair share of theatrics), comes into its own as a venue tonight. It’s the first gig we’ve been to here and its aesthetics and ambience suit Morrissey down to the carpet. It’s lavish, has probably seen better days, but is still faring better than most other things it’s age and having previously seen him live at Manchester Arena and at an outdoor (vegan) festival in Sweden, it feels as though this is the kind of stage where his performance, as well as his audience, can really thrive.
As much as it may give some people the ick, his popularity is unmistakable, evidenced by these back-to-back performances in Liverpool. There’s no questioning the endurance of his appeal here. The days of storming off the stage and the extreme slaughterhouse videos seem a distant memory, replaced by a calmer, more settled, somewhat whimsical performer. He now appears to revel in the intimacy of smaller venues, content in the knowledge that his audience, in varying degrees, either shares his viewpoints or at least tolerates them. It’s a sliding scale of Moz fandom.
Now, just because it’s a seated and swanky venue it doesn’t stop fans from getting to their feet, rushing the stage and turning the room into something that more resembles a safe standing zone at a football stadium than a respectable night at the theatre. Terrace style chants of “MORRISSSEEEYY MORRRISSSEYYY MORRRISSEEYYYY” only compound the comparison.
On night one the boundary between artist and audience is blurred multiple times as (we count) three fans manage to navigate their way onto the stage to embrace him in varying degrees of brute force despite securities best bundling efforts. This spontaneous display of affection, however, led to the erection of a barrier for the second night, a move that underscored the level enthusiasm and devotion Morrissey can still count on.
Yet, the barrier does not deter the energy and interaction between Moz and his fans. In a now signature move he removes multiple shirts over the course of the concerts, tossing them into the crowd. Each shirt fervently fought over, their acquisition a coveted token of a night spent in close proximity to their beloved artist. This ritual, part theatrical, part fan service, is yet another display of his hold over his hardcore fanbase.
Morrissey, true to his reputation, wears his heart on his sleeve, offering his personality and character to his audience without filter or pretence. It is this unique brand transparency that fuels the singer’s magnetism. His songs are a glimpse into his mindset with lyrics that so often reflect a self-aware, yet somehow endearing arrogance that we’ve all come to know and sometimes question.
The transition from a band frontman to a solo performer is rarely seamless. In fact Morrissey may well be one of the most successful examples going. Of course he has always been celebrated for his lyrics – the poetic, provocative, and often confessional words that resonate deeply with his listeners. It’s these inherent talents that his solo career has and continues to hinge on. Without the safety net of The Smiths’ formidable signature sound, the weight of his songs rests heavily on his lyrics, and he continues to rise to the occasion magnificently.
One example of this comes in the form of Bonfire of Teenagers from what Morrissey calls “the best album of his life“. It feels like a gauntlet thrown down from the stage to the world. Yet to be released, he’s showing it off. It stands within a setlist drizzling with bona-fide classic tunes and doesn’t feel a toe out of place.
He boldly opens night one with the timeless hit How Soon Is Now and from there the concert rumbles of at a rapid pace, with songs falling in quick succession. With one eye on the stopwatch some are presented as abridged versions and an hour passes by in what feels like 20 minutes.
The abrupt encore of Irish Blood, English Heart pleases the fans to no end and before we know it we’re back at night two where he reverses his opening song choice kicking off with last nights encore. New additions to the setlist such as Jim Jim Falls, The Night Pop Dropped, and Notre-Dame ensure that any attendees of both nights (of which we suspect there were many) are spared a night of predicable déjà vu.
The performances are filled with the unique inflections and emotional nuances that we’d become so familiar with. Crooning, yelping, whispering, bellowing and increasingly more playful moments of improvisation such as in I’m So Sorry. At one point we think he might actually be having fun up there.
Across the two nights Morrissey delivers a blend of introspection, defiance, and unabashed self-expression. He continues to command the stage with his unique brand of charisma and lyrical genius, despite the controversies that have surrounded his character.
Morrissey is, as his song suggests, human and in need of love. The Liverpool Empire is where he finds it in abundance. To survey the crowd is to witness the extent of his influence – Morrissey merchandise on every other person, tattoos of lyrics or portraits, and that iconic haircut. It’s a testament to the enduring love for this unique artist. A love that might have waned slightly over the years due to his controversial antics, but a love that remains strong, nonetheless. The Morrissey fandom is indeed a sliding scale, but one that remains fervently dedicated to their beloved icon.