I just learned the recently rescheduled ’80s-centric, alternative-minded Cruel World Festival was cancelled today. The notice came in the form of a non-assuming and somewhat under-the-radar email that I almost overlooked.
I guess I can’t say I’m all that surprised. Still, I’m disappointed. At the very least, I was hoping for perhaps a one year reprieve, maybe moving the fest to the Spring of next year. Guess not …
Since there will be no Cruel World, despite seemingly living in one on a daily basis, I’m finally going to sit back, choke it up, and get this Morrissey post I’ve been meaning to pen, on the page and out the door.
After all, Morrissey was scheduled as headliner, alongside many other headline worthy acts … Bauhaus, Blondie, Devo, Echo and the Bunnymen. And the original postponement was my impetus to re-blog the blog, following a lengthy absence I’ve talked about ad naseum. I’ve come full circle, so it would seem.
This particular show took place last October at the Hollywood Bowl. A former Brit, now Los Angelino, Morrissey seems to play the famous art deco amphitheater on an annual basis. Hell, I don’t blame him. It’s a beautiful outdoor venue with surprisingly good acoustics. And for a singer/songwriter who’s lyrics are everything, it’s an ideal locale to hear every nuance of sound and syllable with the clarity intended.
Admittedly, I’ve been dragging my heels on this post. Some of Morrissey’s press interviews haven’t sat all that well with my thoughts. I just can’t tell if he’s Left, Right, or just yanking our chains. On the one hand, he’s rightfully critical of police brutality and animal cruelty, on the other, he seems to downplay Me Too and stand against immigration rights. And living in L.A., and it’s massive sprawl of diversity and social eccentricity, I’m not sure how you reconcile all that.
Now that things are rightly fucked, as the last few months have proven, I’m going to suck it up, and separate the man’s politics from the music, even if the music itself can sometimes be political. Plus, he was once the legendary frontman of The Smiths. And I can’t discount that in any way, shape or form. I mean, he’s got opinions, sure. But at least he ain’t openly inciting or doing crimes, like some unmentionables that should be mentioned.
That brings me to his Hollywood Bowl show. Morrissey still commands a no-meat policy for his performances. So there was plenty of Beyond Meat product to go around. I kind of wish they had an Impossible burger. But other than that, his politics were noticeably absent, both in his banter and visuals.
I was kind of fearing the visceral shock of his “Meat is Murder” LED projections, which can sometimes make for an uncomfortable and unnerving experience. It certainly did, when he headlined FYF back in 2015, with that massive screen displaying unspeakable acts of animal cruelty, as the adjacent highway of traffic drove by in shock. That is the point, though, so I get it.
None of that was on display here. In fact, he skipped his popular cover of The Smith’s “Meat is Murder,” in favor of some other Smith’s tunes, most notably the question-mark songs, “Is It Really So Strange?” and ” How Soon is Now?,” the latter of which rounded out the show.
Morrissey performs The Smiths’ “Is It Really So Strange?” @ the Hollywood Bowl on 10.26.19.
Morrissey performs The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” @ the Hollywood Bowl on 10.26.19.
I do enjoy Morrissey’s solo band. And they’re quite spirited and on-point, when it comes to rendering his solo material. But with The Smiths-centric tunes, I do miss Johnny Marr’s guitar-craft. He brought a serrated edge and nervy angst to that classic material that, to date, remains unparalleled.
Of course, that’s an unfair comparison, since The Smith’s have long been defunct, ending their run in ’87 with the earth-shattering break-up we all feared at the time. Yet, it’s a comparison that must be made, if Morrissey continues to perform these tracks.
On a tangential note, I actually can boast that I’ve seen The Smiths live. It was for “The Queen is Dead” tour, way back in ’86 at the beautiful outdoor Greek Theatre in Berkeley. So I do know a little about what I’m talking about.
I’m not that much of a purist, though, and I seamlessly transitioned to Morrissey’s solo career with a fair degree of fluidity. I was also a professional music journalist at the time, and as such, going with the flow came with the territory.
I still love his debut LP “Viva Hate” from ’88, and attended one of the tours around that era, when he played the Forum in Inglewood. It could’ve been the “Kill Uncle” tour. I’m not entirely sure, as it was quite a long time ago. But I was definitely at one of them.
And like many others, I do enjoy hearing his singles from that particular point in time, namely the enigmatic pop combo of “Suedehead,” and “Everyday is Like Sunday,” both of which he resurrected at the Bowl to thunderous applause and fanfare.
Morrissey performs “Suedehead” @ the Hollywood Bowl on 10.26.19.
Morrissey performs “Every Day is Like Sunday” @ the Hollywood Bowl on 10.26.19.
Once I move into Morrissey’s later years, my familiarity and knowledge of his vast catalogue of songcraft slightly wanes and wavers. Much of his material can be an acquired taste, to say the least. His brilliant distinct songwriting is emotionally complex and challenging, often full of dour dark humor and self-deprecating anti-machismo. His music seems of a specific time and place, often evoking ’60s pop iconography and aesthetics, yet still feeling of it’s own slightly introverted world, as well as distinctly anti-pop. And his politics, well, that it’s own prickly animal, and best left to an individual’s tastes.
Curiously, for this performance, I fixated on a trio of tunes from “Low in High School.” I’m not sure why I latched onto this cleverly titled album from ’17. I guess I gravitated towards the instrumental energy and lyrical urgency of the material. Plus, there’s a Pretenders cover for “Back on the Chain Gang,” which works surprisingly better than you’d ever suspect, as if he’d written it himself. (Sorry, Chrissie Hynde fans. Do not mean to offend.)
The other tracks were “You’ll Be Gone,” which started the show, and “I Wish You Lonely.”
Morrissey performs a cover of The Pretenders’ “Back on the Chain Gang” @ the Hollywood Bowl on 10.26.19.
Morrissey performs “You’ll Be Gone” @ the Hollywood Bowl on 10.26.19.
Morrissey performs “I Wish You Lonely” @ the Hollywood Bowl on 10.26.19.
I’ve only included one track from “California Son,” Morrissey’s current album at the time. He’s since release another, aptly titled “I am Not a Dog on a Chain.” This performance predates that, so we’ll leave it for a future discussion.
This one’s called “Morning Starship, ” and quite frankly, I just like it. Morrissey’s a bit sing-song with the melodies, but it plays quite nicely into his strengths, thus making for one of his more memorable new efforts.
Morrissey performs “Morning Starship” @ the Hollywood Bowl on 10.26.19.
A bit of an obscurity, I really enjoy the slight menace and edginess of “Jack the Ripper.” It appeared on the ’93 live album “Beethoven was Deaf,” and the ’94 compilation “World of Morrissey,” both of which have been deleted from EMI Records catalogue. Thankfully, they still exist on streaming services, and Morrissey still enjoys performing such select cuts.
Morrissey performs “Jack the Ripper” @ the Hollywood Bowl on 10.26.19.
I’m going to wrap this up with the classic track “Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself” from the acclaimed ’94 release “Vauxhall and I.” It’s a deceptively simple acoustic number that showcases Morrissey’s exceptional ability to distill songcraft to a minimal melody coupled with lyrical ambition. Strangely, it was never released as a single, despite being so well-suited as one.
Morrissey performs “Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself” @ the Hollywood Bowl on 10.26.19.
That’s all I’ve got for Morrissey. Who knows what he would’ve brought to Cruel World. Perhaps, a more late ’80s-early-’90s-centric selection of tracks, as was the intended theme of the fest. Maybe there would’ve been some extra Smiths tunes. I guess we’ll never know … at least not this year.
On the positive, this whole thing has prodded me off my ass to finally get this post authored and exported for your viewing/reading pleasure. Take that for what it is. It’s small consolation, but at least it’s something.
Until the return of live music …