I'd earlier posted a "review" of sorts of the Moz concert I saw in Manchester in 2004. I now figure I may as well add the one I wrote after seeing Morrissey in Manchester again, at the Apollo. So here 'tis!
The setting: It is early May, 2006. J and I have just left off-season Llandudno behind, and we've made it westward to Manchester. Now, on to the really, really important thing: the Morrissey concert!
The tickets for this show had been purchased back in February, during a ski trip to Lutsen with J, his brothers, and the fiancee of one of the brothers (very soon to be wife!), to celebrate J's 30th birthday. I had brought along my laptop with a terribly delusional idea that I might work on a book that was already terribly, terribly late. It almost goes without saying that I didn't do any work, but for some reason I did turn the damn thing on--to discover that (for a small fee) I could enjoy wireless Internet and be totally antisocial.
And then I thought, well, I mustn't waste the evening like that, but...I could
just quickly check my email, and as long as I'm online anyhow I could
just quickly check on my Flickr photos and as long as I have Firefox open I could
just quickly check on that one eBay auction for those Moz tickets...that one auction that would be over before we got back to Minneapolis on Sunday night. And before you know it I'd decided that I could
just quickly bid a never-to-be-disclosed amount and then hope for the best.
Lucky for me, the best came true. I got the tickets! And promptly blocked out how much I'd paid for them! (Honestly--I had to look it up a few months ago when I realized I couldn't remember at all. And I was a little bit shocked. And now I once again cannot remember.)
At some point in the lead-up to the big day, I'd decided that if I were ever going to be a rabid fangirl and queue for a Morrissey gig, this was the one. Reason #1:
We had general admission tickets. So it was either queue or be far, far from the stage. While the show would still be great--as it was when we saw him in Manchester in July 2004--it would be SO VERY GREAT to be right up front.
For those of you who've not yet seen the light that is The Greatness of Moz, just know that he is truly incredible in concert--the (overused but apt) word "charismatic" does not begin to cover it. But it goes beyond that--he also exudes an astonishingly strong magnetic pull toward his physical person. I realized this immediately when I attended my very first Morrissey gig, in February of 2000 (a show I saw along with the Librarian from Milwaukee!). I remember marveling afterwards at the newly revealed truth that there are some performers who are perfectly fine to watch and listen to from some reasonable distance, and there are others who you just really, desperately, urgently want to touch. And good god if Moz doesn't fall into the latter category.Reason #2:
Manchester is always a very special place to see Moz. It's often been noted that Manchester and the music (and especially the lyrics) of the Smiths are inseparable, and while Moz's solo lyrics have grown farther apart from his home town, he still makes frequent references to the permanent state of Northernness and to the inescapability of one's roots. On top of that, Manchester fans are like no other fans--Morrissey is their
lad, and they are passionate about him.Reason #3:
The Apollo is (for the Morrissey of 2006) a relatively small venue, with a capacity of about 3,500, giving me better-than-average odds of being pretty close to the man, and maybe...yes...maybe even within touching distance. I hardly dared to hope--but I did anyway. Plus, having paid the it-which-shall-not-be-named amount that I had for the tickets, I might as well make the most of them.
It was decided. Queue I would.
The day before the show, we had little time in the city itself--although we did squeeze in something we'd missed last time: a photo op in front of that Smiths-fan mecca, the Salford Lads Club. I got all giddy standing there, grinning like a madwoman (that photo is not posted, surprise, surprise) and casting furtive, embarrassed glances at the kids playing ball, who'd probably seen nine million of me doing this exact same thing.
The day of
the show, I awoke early-ish, got dressed in my carefully planned outfit of pants (the better and less scandalously to hurl myself onto the stage should the opportunity present itself), black (what else?) top, fake pearls reminiscent of Moz's be-beaded days in The Smiths, and jean jacket decked out with many little Smiths and Morrissey badges purchased on eBay, at Ragstock, and at the 2004 Moz concert in Milwaukee. I was a little foggy-headed, but excited.
J dragged himself out of bed too, and very obligingly drove me to the Apollo, which we'd staked out the night before--as getting even mildly lost the morning of the show would no doubt have resulted in me becoming very panicky and probably also very unpleasant to be around. The theater was a full half-hour's drive from our hotel, which was not in Manchester itself, but in the charmingly-named-but-actually-quite-dull suburb of Bramhall. We'd have much preferred to stay in the city proper, but as usual J and I made our reservations at the last possible moment and therefore were denied. So we ended up in what is essentially the Edina of Manchester. For those of you (if there are any) unfamiliar with Edina, we're talking about a very pretty and well-groomed little place that sports a variety of spendy boutiques, some cute cafes, breakfast places that charge an obscene amount for the basics (but which offer the option of alcohol with your toast and eggs, which does help a bit), and very, VERY well-dressed ladies driving very, VERY expensive convertibles to do their shopping at the afore-mentioned boutiques.
So by approximately 9:30, we had left the boutiques of Bramhall behind and arrived among the grey stone streets of Manchester. We did an initial drive-by past the Apollo to see if anyone was there yet--for, while I had assured J that there would be at least some hardcore fans there very early, he had his doubts. And, yeah, I was totally right. There wasn't a throng
, by any means, but I'd say there were around ten people. While I am normally pretty pleased with being proven right, this time it just made me nervous. I suddenly had butterflies in my stomach at the prospect of walking up to these strangers and settling myself beside them for a long, long wait. I balked and asked J to drive around a bit more while I tried to be an adult about the whole thing. Finally I was ready to take the plunge, but not before demanding that J let me out around the corner from the theater's main entrance, as if I were a teenager being dropped off at the mall by her mom. So much for being an adult.
By the time I finally got in the queue (after insisting that J go off and see stuff and leave me to my sick little obsession), it was about 10. Doors would open at 7. A mere nine hours of sitting and standing on the hard, cold concrete steps of the Manchester Apollo stretched before me!
Settling in to pass the time, I opened my copy of Lucky Jim
and munched on a Hob Nob. I also had a more academic reading selection in my bag: See It and Say It in Italian
. This book, helpfully and whimsically illustrated, proclaims that "If you can speak ENGLISH...you can teach yourself ITALIAN." True to its word, it arms the Italian student with fabulously useful phrases such as:Dove è il turista? Il turista è all'hotel.
(Where is the tourist? The tourist is at the hotel.)
and:Ha un leone in casa? Che orrore! Non ho un leone in casa.
(Do you have a lion in the house? How horrible! I don't have a lion in the house.)
I had every intention of using this valuable tool to hone my Italian skills as I waited, but Jim
was so entertaining that, when I finally did get out the Italian book, it was only as a ploy--I'd overheard that one of the other queuers was Italian. Hoping he might live in Rome and be able to provide some tips, I read Jim
for what I deemed a non-suspicious amount of time longer. Then pulled out the bait-book, which helpfully has ITALIAN in large, indiscreet, bright red letters on the back cover, and equally large, nearly as indiscreet green letters on the front.
It worked within five minutes. He sat down beside me and asked, "Are you studying Italian?"
Except that, as it turned out, he was Milanese. Not only that, but when I told him the reason for my study he had a few less-than-flattering words about my future neighbors ("Rome is very nice--except for the Romans"), but he did inform me that Moz would be playing Ostia Antica in the summer, and wrote down the relevant ticket website URL on the back inside cover of my Italian book. He also wrote down the name of a big record store on Via del Corso that sells tickets.
Even better, I loved the story that nameless Italian Moz-fanboy (why didn't I ask for his name? because I'm an idiot!) told me. He asked how long I'd been a fan, and I said since high school, when I'd had a terrible boyfriend who had introduced me to Morrissey's music, thus making the whole fiasco completely worth the pain. (A neat combo, that, handing out heartbreak with a side of Mozza. Like simultaneously giving someone a nasty burn and a salve.) He laughed and told me that he'd only been into Morrissey for a few years, and that for a long time previously he'd actively disliked Moz for all the things he'd heard about him--arrogant and all that. But then Moz came to Milan, and not-yet-a-fanboy-then figured that, since he was
a legend, he'd best go see the show and at least know what the fuss was about. And then, the moment Morrissey came on stage, fanboy couldn't take his eyes off him. He'd been following him ever since, he said, going to as many shows as he could. I said that I felt lucky to have seen Moz on the 2004 tour, when he'd been performing "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out," and fanboy exclaimed, "Oh, I cried so much when he played that!"
Other people in the queue seemed very nice, and I really should've been less shy and at least tried to strike up conversations--the core of devoted Moz fans are legendarily friendly and tend to appreciate one another on the basis of their mutual devotion--but I chickened out. Part of the problem was that the dozen or so people ahead of me, plus about the next ten who arrived, all knew at least a few of the other queuers, as they'd all done this many, many times. For them, it was all sharing snacks and crossing the street in shifts to nap on a sunny patch of grass. J and I later heard one group of guys say that this was their first of seven shows in ten or twelve days. I would say that these people are crazy, but frankly, if I had the means (time, money, biscuits), I'd probably do the same.
Anyhow, point is, I fulfilled a grand old stereotype of Morrissey fans by being a complete wall-flower and sticking my nose in a book and resolutely refusing to make friends and then feeling vaguely saddened and disappointed about my alone-ness. Eh. Maybe next time.
All this is not to say that I didn't have ANY human contact during the wait--one somewhat odd guy did start talking to me while it was still morning, in an accent so thick (and northern, I think--I'm pretty sure he was a Mancunian himself) that I could barely understand him at first. He got a big kick out of all my badges, pointing them out to other queuers, and wanted to know my favorite Moz/Smiths song (his is "Asleep," a hell of a sad one), and tried to put his flat cap
on my head, and then pulled a tall beer out of his jacket, cracked it open, and took a cod liver oil pill with it. He was quite nice and seemed completely harmless, but I did feel a bit silly about the whole hat thing. How are you supposed to graciously remove and return a strange man's hat?
I did enjoy watching and listening as I waited. There was one English guy, Chris, who clearly organized things (though unofficially), because he took the names of the first twenty or so people who got in line, and then when it got close to doors time he kind of helped us get arranged so that we'd be the first in. Pretty cool. He also handed out Jaffa Cakes. Super cool.
(If you are unsure what a Jaffa Cake is, not to worry. The expected McVitie's propaganda is here
, but a more intellectually adventurous discussion can be found here: Jaffa Cakes: Biscuit or Cake?
This article uses both the words "conundrums" and "squidgy," so it's well worth a read.)
Then there was the German woman with the cute dog, and the Japanese guy who the Italian guy said comes to all the shows, and two really pretty, skinny girls who looked Eastern European and wore cool clothes and had fabulous bangs and wore cherry-red lipstick that significantly brightened up the day. Sadly, one of them fainted a few songs into the gig and had to be taken out. There was also a group of people who played Morrissey Song Title Charades for an hour or so. Nerdy but fun to observe from the sidelines.
At about four o'clock, J joined me in line--which by then stretched well around the corner--bearing cheesy-veggie sandwiches (I didn't DARE eat meat in a Morrissey queue, though others were braver than I) and salt-and-vinegar chips (well, crisps, really) and water. I foolishly drank the water and then had to cross the street and go down the block to buy some gummy candy things at the gas station in exchange for using their incredibly disgusting bathroom. By six, there had been movement behind the doors, and the crowd began jockeying for position, pushing up towards the steps and packing in more densely. Honest-to-god palpable
excitement thrummed through the queue. Our biscuit (or are they cakes?!?)-bearing friend Chris arranged those of us who had arrived the earliest, dividing us among the theater's four doors. J and I seemed to be well positioned, but now was no time to let our guard down.
And finally, finally! The doors opened. Security sternly forbade us from running to the stage, and even made one guy go back because of it. So what resulted was sort of a furtive trotting gait to the front, where I secured a front-row spot and nestled in against the comfy metal barrier. And got ready to wait another hour and a half or so--for the first opener. The FIRST one. Meaning that there were two. Dear god. (In their defense, both Kristeen Young and Sons and Daughters were quite good, but COME ON.)
In the approximately three hours between doors and Morrissey taking the stage, the crush steadily increased. One bitch who hadn't been in the queue managed to weasel her way into an almost nonexistent gap to my right. I'll give her one thing--she was really GOOD. She began by just putting her hand on the barrier, at which I cockily thought to myself, "Ha! there's no way in hell she's getting up here," but after an hour or so she was fully beside me. Several times I got the distinct sensation that she was somehow actually expanding
her body. J, who was behind me and could see what she was doing, said she would wriggle forward a little after exhaling, get another inch or so of herself between me and the gorgeous tattooed girl next to me, and then take a deep breath. What resulted was a constant, full-body struggle on my part just to hold my ground. And I was losing. I was beyond pissed off, but in a shaky, over-tired way. When I finally turned to J and told him almost tearfully that I was too tired to keep doing this for the entire show, he valiantly tried to ask the girl to back off. She maintained her bitchiness with flair, telling him that "this is what happens at gigs, sometimes it gets rough." At which point J began defending me against her assault with more liberal use of his elbows. My hero.
(As some consolation, the soft-spoken and lovely forty-something Scottish woman on the other side of me, who I think had waited twelve hours, and who had clearly been to many, many gigs on the tour already--she said she was plenty sick of Sons and Daughters after seeing them open over and over--was very sympathetic.)
Of course, once Morrissey took the stage, all annoyance, worries, and cares evaporated--although the pressure of the crowd increased tenfold, as the faithful surged forward to get a few inches closer.
Moz looked great, naturally, with the quiff in fine form, and beautiful shirts (Italian?), and those gorgeous gray sideburns of his. I snapped as many pictures with my crappy disposable camera as I dared, and a couple even sort of half turned out.
Moz also sounded fabulous, in full rich voice and plenty vibrato--not to mention witty quips between songs, and clever lyrical changes during. "Life Is a Pigsty," which I had expected to be mind-blowing live--all intensity and building sadness and rumbling elegaic chords-- did not disappoint. Not a bit. Plus, we got to see how Boz makes the neat clinky-tinky sounds at the beginning by tapping glasses of water. Then Moz followed "Pigsty" up with "Trouble Loves Me," which sounds better than it ever has. Plus there were Smiths classics including "Still Ill" and "How Soon Is Now" (known as HSIN to aficionados), not to mention as-yet-unreleased Moz b-sides. And through it all, the crowd sang along, hands outstretched.
As for those fantasies of actual, physical contact--well, they were fantasies indeed. The pit between the barrier and the stage was a solid six feet. And as for the barrier--well, to call it sturdy would be a grave understatement. That thing was a fucking fortress. And even if someone could have managed to breach it, they still had to get past the line of security guys. Security guys who clearly knew what they were doing, and what to expect with a Moz show. As always, a few people did try to get over the fence, often with the help of the crowd, but they never stood a chance. The security guys would see them coming a mile off, grab them by the arms, and pull them down into the pit. The great thing is they weren't ejected--standard policy at Moz shows, by his request, is that people are removed from the pit or the stage (if they get that far) and then simply returned to the crowd.
At the end of the gig, after a rousing encore of "Irish Blood, English Heart" (aka IBEH), Moz said, "Ciao" and trotted off the stage. Then the lights came up, a full-fledged brawl broke out over of the sweat-soaked shirts Moz had flung into the crowd, I bought some pins from the official vendors and a t-shirt from an unofficial vendor, changed into both in the car as we pulled out of the lot, and J and I found a late-night Chinese place for dinner. Basically, an awesome gig. Plus, we did speak with one other queuer, who stopped us on the way out after the show. I hadn't talked to him while waiting, but I recognized him right away because I had
noticed his amazing tattoos--a multi-colored swallow on each side of his neck, which is (but of course!) an allusion to a Morrissey lyric. He asked us if we were at the front, because apparently he'd seen me in the queue, and he seemed pleased to hear that the answer was yes. He also told us that the show had been the best of the dozen he'd seen thus far on the current tour. Double awesome.
The next morning, I woke up and immediately--before any thought even entered my mind--had that awful, enormous letdown sensation. I hate, hate, hate
that feeling. And the whole previous day had already begun to blur and lose detail. What a relief, then to find while getting ready for my shower that I had several nice big bruises as proof that it hadn't all been a (very long) dream.