Morrissey. Red Rocks. 07.16.15
The first indication that it was not an average evening at Red Rocks came as we approached the Upper North ramp. A man and a woman were being turned away because they had sandwiches in their bag. They didn’t have booze or drugs or weapons, they had something much worse…they had cold cuts. Meat is defined as “the flesh of an animal (especially a mammal) as food”, but Morrissey has his own definition. He defines meat as “murder”. He believes in that definition so strongly that he demanded all sale and consumption of animal flesh be strictly forbidden on Thursday night. The modified meatless menu selections should not have come as a surprise to those who have followed Morrissey’s melodramatic career through the decades, but even the hardest of hardcore fans were shaking their heads at the man’s ability to ostracize himself from society.
That being said, I’ve been a fan of Moz ever since my friend’s older brother introduced me to The Smiths via a Louder Than Bombs cassette tape (on a deck in a 1983 Mazda RX-7) long after Morrissey and Marr had gone their separate ways. The Smiths might have been over before the eighties came to a close, but that didn’t stop me from listening to that compilation until it finally melted in the heat of my own car one summer. Morrissey’s solo work came a little later for me, but Bona Drag is still a go-to album after all these years, as are his impressive late-career releases. So the absence of hot dogs and cheesesteaks was a small price to pay to see him perform at Red Rocks.
As the eighties floated further away in the rearview mirror, so did my interest in Morrissey. It wasn’t until 2004, when he returned with You Are the Quarry, that Moz became a blip on my radar again. Proving the album wasn’t an accident, he followed it up with Ringleader of the Tormentors and Years of Refusal – essentially creating a late-career trilogy that refused to be ignored. Unfortunately, every glowing review was followed by the usual Morrissey melodrama. He was demanding extraordinary actions be taken by venues…he was trying to cancel other band’s sets…he was bitching and moaning and essentially being the twat that the media had always wanted him to be. Whether this tabloid dribble was true or false didn’t (and doesn’t) really matter to the people who love Morrissey’s music, but the health issues and postponed (and then cancelled) dates made things hard on the fans. I bought so many tickets to so many cancelled shows that I almost gave up on ever seeing him live, so it was with great excitement (and relief) when I finally witnessed the man take the stage at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House last year. The show proved worth the wait, so I was positive that seeing him with Future Islands at Red Rocks would not be disappointing.
Having learned my lesson last year, I made sure we weren’t in our seats for the pre-show. I’m not positive that the PETA commercial depicting drowning animals was shown this time around, but I wasn’t going to take the chance. We purchased some vegan beverages and enjoyed them on the sidelines until we heard the opening chords of “Suedehead”. Then we made our way to our second rows seats to find that the chaos had already begun. “It’s never too late to go to your Jr. Prom!” Morrissey declared to the growing crowd. Red Rocks is an amphitheatre, and most of the time people stay in their own row, but it might as well have been an open arena floor the way people forced their way to the front. A steel barrier had been built for exactly this reason, and although it kept the rabid fans at bay, Morrissey reached his arms over the top to bless the faithful with his touch. “Why do you come here? And why do you hang around?”
I’ve been to well over a hundred shows at Red Rocks, and I’ve been in the second row before, but I’ve never seen anything like what I experienced on Thursday night. As Morrissey led the 5-piece band into “Alma Matters”, like a silver fox superhero, I felt closer to greatness than I’ve ever felt before. I wouldn’t even consider myself a Morrissey superfan, but every time he’d pass by our side of the stage, in his blue-and-gold v-neck, the crowd would literally erupt, taking my energy level high above the Rocks with it. Personal space was nonexistent as unbearable images of police brutality flashed across the screen above, but as “Ganglord” took us back to the ghetto, there was a certain comfort to be found in the tight spaces we were confined to. There could be no anger and animosity among those in the crowd because Morrissey had already used up all the negative emotions in the world — he turned them into song, thus unburdening the rest of us for the entirety of his performance.
“We are, of course, thrilled to be in Morrison.” The CARNE EN AESINATO t-shirts from the Ellie Caulkins show were absent, but a Mexican flag hung in a prominent place on the stage, acknowledging Morrissey’s influence among the Hispanic youth. And as the lights went down on “Ganglord”, they came back on to find Gustavo Manzur standing center stage. He finished the song in Spanish while Moz took his turn on the tambourine. It wasn’t just Mexican culture that was represented in a positive light throughout the night. Punk rock legends, African American icons, Spanish artists and film noir images were projected on the big screen that hung above the band, as were scathing accusations against the monarchy of the United Kingdom. Morrissey has a history of letting his politics and cultural opinions get in the way of his music, but his physical presence (at least from the second row) was larger than any message he was trying to force down anyone’s throat. It was also nice when sad-sack love songs like “Kiss Me a Lot”, “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” and “Yes I Am Blind” balanced out the set. “Meat Is Murder” was the only selection where all pleasure was sucked out of the performance by a grotesque display of animal destruction. Luckily I had also learned that lesson at last year’s show, so I took the opportunity to visit the closest restroom during his attack against those of us who enjoy a good burger.
As they closed things out with “Now My Heart Is Full”, Morrissey seemed sincere in his sentiment. He seemed at peace throughout the performance, even as he was spewing anger out at a world that disappoints him so much. His songs were not uplifting, they were the opposite…they put a weight on our shoulders that was almost hard to handle. But somehow it also felt good — like a heavy blanket in a cold storm. Morrissey might be an unlikely rock star, but he proved himself to be the most ‘rock starish’ rock star I’ve ever seen up-close-and-personal at Red Rocks. And as “Everyday Is Like Sunday” led into “The Queen Is Dead”, I thought I caught a glimpse of the morose (anti)sex symbol he must have been in the late-eighties. I imagine he was a sight to see back then, but at 56 years old he is still quite the sight these days…especially when he decides to show up.
I wrote the following after the show last year, but I think it bears repeating here.
Morrissey is a man who has been loved and adored by thousands, but evidently, never by one. Despite his voice being incredible last night — despite the energy he still has at his age and despite his incredible band — some might find him sad and depressing. And he was. And he is. He is a man who shows more love for animals than he does for most human beings. He is a man who has (or at least believes he has) been screwed over by almost everyone he has ever trusted or cared about. The life of Morrissey has not been a happy one, but that’s the genius of his music. The words to a lot of his songs are basic requests for love, but those requests have always been denied. I can’t claim to know Morrissey, but after reading his Autobiography I’d say he doesn’t seem to be capable of receiving love. He is the definition of a tortured artist. He is a rare individual. He has no problem screaming his politics at the world, and he effortlessly writes songs that speak to the depths of the soul, but he struggles to interact with the human race on a basic social level. It’s because of those issues that so many people have a such hard time with him…and that he has such a hard time with so many people.
At one point in his book he writes (of David Bowie) “David quietly tells me, ‘You know, I’ve had so much sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive,’ and I loudly tell him, ‘You know, I’ve had so LITTLE sex and drugs I can’t believe I’m still alive.’” But Morrissey is still alive. Unlike so many of his kind, he did not kill himself before the world could turn on him. I can’t help but wonder what people would be saying about him if he would have left us after Strangeways, Here We Come. On the flipside, I can’t help but wonder what the media would be saying about people like Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin or Kurt Cobain had they lived (and continue to produce music) well into their 50’s. It’s a question that can’t be answered, but I can’t help but be grateful that Morrissey didn’t take the easy way out. I can’t help but be grateful that his miserable time on this miserable planet with these miserable people allowed him to create such magnificently miserable music.
* a full Future Islands review can be found here.
World Peace Is None of Your Business
Kiss Me a Lot
First of the Gang to Die
Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before
I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris
Staircase at the University
The Bullfighter Dies
Yes, I Am Blind
I Will See You in Far-Off Places
The World Is Full of Crashing Bores
What She Said
Meat Is Murder
Now My Heart Is Full
Everyday Is Like Sunday
The Queen Is Dead