Vicar Street, Dublin
There’s a surprise towards the end of Morrissey’s cathartically cranky Vicar Street concert when pop’s most sarcastic iconoclast sets aside the dark wit and speaks from the heart. “I can’t release music any more because I’m an individual, and that isn’t allowed,” he says. “Everybody must be the same. Sing the same songs, do the same things, like the same people.”
He gets a roar from the boisterous crowd, many of whom see the former Smiths singer not as a problematic relic from the 1980s but as the eternal godfather of heartfelt indie pop. He inhabits both incarnations in the first of two-sold out performances in Dublin, opening with a tremulous rush of hits from 40 years ago: a thunderous tilt at The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now? leads into a revved-up Suedehead, his dashing dissection of self-loathing from his debut solo album, Viva Hate.
But the 64-year-old is no longer merely the Oscar Wilde-worshipping outsider who, with showboating vulnerability, reinvented what it was to be a rock star. That is still part of who he is. But controversial comments about, among other things, the British royals and meat-eaters, and an appearance on American television wearing a badge of the right-wing For Britain party, have muddied the marmalade.
He points out that no record company will take a punt on his latest material. Some of his newer songs are wonderful: My Hurling Days Are Done, for instance, from 2020, is a nod to his Irish roots – he’s the son of two Dubliners – while Sure Enough, the Telephone Rings recycles the laconic playfulness that was a Smiths hallmark.
Sometimes, though, an incandescent grumpiness gets the better of him. Bonfire of Teenagers, the title track from one of the two LPs no label will go near, brings out a vindictive streak late in the evening.
It’s his response to the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, after which Oasis’s Don’t Look Back in Anger became a rallying point: an anthem that pleaded for healing and solidarity rather than rage. Moz isn’t having it. “The morons sing and sway, don’t look back in anger,” he croons. “I can assure you I will look back in anger til the day I die.”
Amid the trolling ire are flashes of the old drollness. Morrissey appears to have been keeping up to date on the payments controversy sweeping RTÉ. “Do you know, I have never, ever been invited on Irish television,” he says. “All I can say is, thank God.”
It ends magnificently. Everyday Is Like Sunday is a pummelling and backhanded love letter to lonely coastal towns – we can all think of a few Irish ones that fit the bill – elevated by his guitarists Jesse Tobias and Carmen Vandenberg.
The encore is even more thrilling and tumultuous. As the band plunge into The Smiths’ Sweet and Tender Hooligan, Morrissey, framed by dry ice and squalling red lights, whips off his yellow T-shirt, flinging it into the audience. He’s bruised and unbowed – yet somehow small and sad too. The diehards love it. The problem for Morrissey is that, nowadays, only the diehards seem to care.
Morrissey plays Vicar Street, Dublin 8, again tonight