Morrissey isn’t called the King of Mope Rock for nothing. Last Sunday night, the legendary singer-songwriter dubbed as “one of the most influential artists ever” treated fans, old and new, with an unforgettable performance punctuated by a trippy atmosphere that was at times, somber, shocking and yes, emotionally charged.
As the chimes of what sounded like church bells signaled his entrance, the former frontman of The Smiths greeted his Filipino fans (and a good number of expats) with a simple “Kumusta?” before opening his show with the quintessential Smiths anthem, “How Soon Is Now?” which sent the cheering crowd into a sing-along frenzy.
But before everyone could start chanting their favorite Smiths/Morrissey tune (i.e. “Panic,” “This Charming Man,” “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” and “Suedehead”) the rest of the show would not turn out to be the expected greatest hits revue as Moz, as he is fondly known to fans, opted for a thematic set list composed of mostly obscure favorites and fairly recent material that only hardcore fans are mostly familiar with.
Actor/model Victor Basa and Manila-based comic book artist Leinil Yu, among others, noted as much in post-concert tweets. I have to admit I was looking forward to hearing those popular hits as well.
But even those of us who felt “bitin” with the lack of the so-called big guns had to admit that it was still an amazing concert that delivered powerful messages and a strong sense of purpose and conviction.
Also known for his animal rights activism and outspoken views on certain political and universal issues, Morrissey had earlier sent a well-publicized letter to President Noynoy Aquino asking for the release of an aging elephant at the Manila Zoo. That, along with the presence of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) giving away animal rights paraphernalia during the concert, were indications that his Manila sojourn was no ordinary song-and-dance spectacle.
In many ways, it was like hearing mass on a typical church-going evening. Except there was a lot more to the gospel according to Morrissey than met the eyes and ears. Balancing the mind-bending ambiguity of numbers like “You Have Killed Me,” “Alma Matters” “Speedway,” “Black Cloud” and “Ouija Board, Ouija Board|” with his signature dry wit, Moz gave a hint of things to come when he remarked, “I have so many things to say I don’t know where to begin. So I won’t.”
Letting the music speak for itself, he later summed it up as “not rock, not pop but opera” before tearing into the gangster-inspired “First Of The Gang To Die.” Another highlight was the provocative, “Meat Is Murder,” thoughtfully performed against a disturbing footage of animals being slaughtered.
Although few and far between, crowd pleasers like “Shoplifters Of The World Unite,” “Everyday Is Like Sunday” and the final encore number, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” were well-received and provided the expected audience participation.
No longer the scrawny, bespectacled young charmer 30 years ago when he co-founded The Smiths, the silver-haired musical icon, who physically now has a bulkier build and looks like a hybrid of Quentin Tarantino and Jay Leno, stood magnificently in his trademark embroidered shirts.
Paying tribute to his concert venue, he also wore a Philippine flag-like bandana on his waist like a belt while his band’s drum kit also prominently displayed the flag itself.
Speaking of the band, Morrissey’s incredibly tight unit included guitarist and musical director Boz Boorer, a former member of the rockabilly band the Polecats, and Matt Walker, former drummer for the Smashing Pumpkins. Walker’s elaborate drum setup had a giant snare and gong—lending a big, almost symphonic sound in support of Moz’s “opera” declaration.
Even with the chainsaw-like guitars and the loud bangs and crashes of the rhythm section, there’s a certain intimate, almost personal quality to the almost two hour and 19-song gig as Moz, now 52, sang with uncanny clarity and navigated every vibrato with effortless grace—and not once resorted to vocal gymnastics while staying faithful to the original arrangements.
All told, Morrissey did not exactly give fans what they expected. Instead, he gave us something better—a surprisingly extraordinary and ultimately satisfying show that was a treat for the eyes and a feast for the senses.
Heaven knows the King of Mope Rock is still quite miserable these days. And God bless his soul, we are all the better for it.