LIVE: MORRISSEY - DIA DE LOS MUERTOS
Morrissey with The Mexican Institute of Sound and Rubén Albarrán (4th Annual Día de los Muertos Celebration)
Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara, CA – November 5th, 2016
By Chris Gardner
This was my second attempt at seeing Morrissey live, the first time was in Oakland almost 5 years ago. As I was standing on the platform at a BART station in San Francisco we got the fateful text message informing us the show had been canceled. Apparently the drummer had an eye injury. “If the drummer of Def Leppard can do it with one arm…!” I remember exclaiming. 5 years later I had finally made it to see one of my favorite musicians live.
With two friends in tow, we ventured south from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara and upon our arrival and using my experience from the Bob Dylan show I attended at the Bowl several months ago, we parked a half a mile away to avoid paying for parking. After a short walk to the entrance and receiving our tickets from will call we entered the Santa Barbara Bowl proper greeted by none other than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Well, skeleton versions of them hanging over the entrance at least. A little less scary than the real thing.
After entering and passing by the chance to get our faces painted for a small suggested donation (what the hell was I thinking) and walking a short distance we encountered a courtyard with a mariachi band performing with several murals in the area, notably one for David Bowie and another for Prince, both with their vinyl albums, flowers, and skulls decorating them. That’s right, this is the day of the dead, how had I not expected the presence of these recently deceased icons?
Upon arriving to the area just below the venue it was time for beer, $7 dollars a pop, and after briefly glancing at the merchandise vendors ($35 for a Morrissey t-shirt) it was time to head into the venue proper. We were immediately greeted by the stylings of Rubén Albarrán performing a DJ set. This was a great opportunity to do some solid people watching. Many painted faces littered the crowds, black was the proper colored attire for the evening, many were sporting their Smiths or Morrissey shirts, new and old. I felt $35 burning a hole in my pocket upon seeing several with the phrase “Be Kind To Morrissey Or I’ll Kill You” but I resisted the urge to purchase one. Of course, this being a Mexican holiday there was a heavy Mexican and Latino presence, which I’ve come to understand that Morrissey has a special connection with. Don’t ask me as a gringo to explain it, but it was nothing short of spectacular to see in person the wide and diverse following the young lad from Manchester has generated over the years.
After the DJ set we were then greeted with the musical stylings of Instituto Mexicano del Sonido, or the Mexican Institute of Sound from Mexico City. Their set was great fun, fast paced electronic music with folk and almost punk influences. With a drummer and bass player present it was certainly energetic and very agreeable with the crowd who had mostly filled all the seats in the venue by the time their set was over. Donald Trump made his second appearance of the night, in the form of a piñata being brought out at the request of the band by a woman who then proceeded to tear and beat it to shreds. Video was a big component of this bands set, very well done animation and trippy visuals to accompany an already solid performance. There was a dedication to the Standing Rock tribe that received a positive roar from the crowd. As the set ended it was time to prepare for Morrissey’s arrival.
At this point a mariachi band materialized off to the side of the pit area. Upon wandering over I was greeted with their version of The Smith’s “Ask”. Bliss. Shortly after they stopped performing the lights dimmed. The crowd huddled to the front of the stage. Upon the video screen comes to life a live performance by…The Ramones? Wait what? Then Alice Cooper. Then Ike and Tina Turner. What is going on? Then video of poetry being read. A short comedy routine. Then…the Sex Pistols? Sunny and Cher? New York Dolls? It became clear that this was a collection of some of Morrissey’s favorites. What else would it be? One man from the crowd yelled “fuck this! Come on I paid a hundred bucks! Where’s Morrissey!” Clearly, he didn’t get it. This IS Morrissey. A glimpse into his inspiration. But alas, seeing Morrissey requires patience. I had already waited five years, I could certainly wait through a few more music videos.
Finally, the videos ended. A photograph of a man appeared on the screen. The stage lighting came to life. A melodic score played. This was it. Here he came, black suit, white undershirt, band in tow all with faces painted. They bow. The crowd roars. Raised hands, fists, devil horns, and iPhones blocked my view momentarily. Morrissey grabs the mic: “And to you I say…happy death day!” The opening riff to “How Soon is Now?” explodes my heart and I am left for the next hour and half to pick up the pieces.
“What/How many Smith’s songs did he play!?” I’m sure many are curious to know. Not very many. Two to be exact. If you go to a Morrissey show and expect to hear “The Queen Is Dead” front to back you are setting yourself up for disappointment. After “How Soon Is Now?” he goes into “Alma Matters” and “Speedway”. Then in somewhat of a surprise for me up next is “Ganglord” accompanied by video of police brutality against humans and animals alike. This riled up the crowd, certainly. Morrissey has never been one to shy away from making bold statements about cruelty, and this was a sobering example. Next was “Jack The Ripper” and a very pleasant surprise in the form of a cover of The Ramone’s “Judy Is A Punk” followed by the humorously titled “You’re The One For Me, Fatty”, “Ouija Board, Ouija Board”, and a fabulous rendition of one of my favorite solo Morrissey hits “Kiss Me A Lot”. A very punk-esque “Don’t Make Fun Of Daddy’s Voice” was followed by “I Will See You In Far Off Places”, and then preceded by Morrissey slamming bullfighting in Mexico and Spain as murder and cruelty called “tradition” it was one of my favorites, “The Bullfighter Dies” followed by the song which had its title written on the drum set: “World Peace Is None Of Your Business”, the short and sweet “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” (lyrics: “I’m throwing my arms around Paris because only stone and steel accept my love”, poor Morrissey), “One Of Our Own”, the ever popular crowd pleaser “Suedehead” (which I for years incorrectly referred to as “I’m So Sorry”), then one of my new favorites, the cynical “This World Is Full Of Crashing Bores”.
At this point I have to admit the tears were hard to hold back. “Everyday Is Like Sunday” and “First Of The Gang To Die” was the one-two punch to my heart that I had just managed to repair and fill with joy, and now with no receptacle for said joy it came out of my eyes in salty droplets. At the end Morrissey exclaimed “I love you, I love you I love you!” to the crowd and walked off stage. This was for all intents and purposes the end of the show. No one, and I repeat NO ONE knows how to initiate an encore nowadays. Step one: Clap. Step two: Cheer. Step three: DON’T STOP. Step four: Clap and stomp your foot in rhythm with others that may be doing so, or be the one to initiate it. Step five: Cheer more (preferably the artist’s name) and repeat. I realize that is a lot to handle but for the love of god people, you can’t rely on the lovely souls in the nosebleeds to do this, if you are up front and next to the stage you are the closest in proximity to the artist who is likely a few feet off stage waiting to see if it’s worth it. “BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD” – Morrissey (probably). After a few minutes of half-assed cheering and clapping by the front of the house, they came back out, thankfully. In case you didn’t notice, the opener was one half of the Smith’s songs present in the set, and the second was our treat as a collective crowd: “What She Said” from the “Meat is Murder” album closed out the evening in spectacular day of the dead form (lyrics: “How come someone hasn't noticed that I'm dead…I smoke cause I’m hoping for an early death”). Just beautiful.
Oh, and stage banter! “What did Morrissey have to say?!”, some of you didn’t ask but I’ll tell you anyways in what are likely extremely close to word for word quotes of what he said (I wasn’t transcribing his statements word for word on my typewriter, sorry):
“We’d like to dedicate this set tonight to the people of North Dakota. The world is watching.” #NoDAPL
“We don’t take requests. Why would we?” This was for the asshole likely yelling “There is a light!” or “Freebird!” which there always seems to be.
“I feel bad for you all (In reference to the election). “The result can’t be a good one” “I have shocking news for you all. These are the good old times.” Fucking poignant. And he’s likely right, as usual.
So yes, it was magical. It was fun. It was once in a lifetime. It’s a 5th of November I’ll certainly remember. I hate to end on a cynical note but here it is:
In addition to proper encore etiquette there is one other thing I feel the need to comment on. It is something I myself am guilty of, though certainly not in excess like I witnessed at this show. I alluded it earlier and you may have already guessed what it is, but what can really kill the excitement of a show (especially for anyone 6 feet tall or shorter) is having to watch it on the screen of someone else’s phone. Now look, I understand snapping a few photos, maybe a video or two. But come on people, this is getting out of hand. You’re not living in the moment. You will not have the best time you could possibly have if you are busy deleting other photos and videos off your phone because you ran out of storage space in the middle of “Suedehead”. By the time you have a fabulous snapchat story, several Instagrams posted, have turned AWAY FROM THE MUSICIAN to take selfies with them in the background, and are about to start a Facebook Live video to show how great your life is and why everyone should be jealous of you, the show will be over and you’ll have a dead battery as you drunkenly and desperately try to find your friends or a phone charger. Coming from a theatre background, having your phone out in the middle of a performance is one of the rudest things you can do so I try to limit my usage at concerts and I urge you to as well. It is rude, annoying, and cheapens your experience as well as others.
That said, go see Morrissey if you have the chance. You won’t regret it if you come in with little to no expectations song-wise and an open mind. It will likely benefit those that are single or who are going through a painful breakup the most, so if you are married or have an awesome significant other then go see Paul McCartney or something, your happiness and swaying with your “baby” are not welcome here.