Anyone who’s an attentive fan of Morrissey would know better than to show up to a Moz concert expecting an all-smiles run-through of Smiths hits and fan favorites.
Still, Morrissey delivered an especially insular show at Firefly 2015 on Friday night (June 19). While most festival performers craft setlists peppered with immediately familiar songs that non-fans at the festival might recognize and enjoy, Morrissey kept his set heavy on recent tracks and deeper cuts. Even his stage banter was kept to a slender minimum. He nodded to Public Enemy and the Charleston massacre by declaring, “It takes a nation of millions to hold us back” before launching into “Suedehead,” but that quick reference was the most substantial statement he offered to fans at Firefly.
Not that it mattered for devotees. The man is an astonishingly assured performer — while some singers are forced to resort to onstage theatrics and crowd-baiting to capture attention, Morrissey can rivet audience attention with expressive vocal delivery or even a significantly raised eyebrow.
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That being said, this praise comes from a longtime Smiths fanatic — and fellow fans seemed in short supply at Firefly. Morrissey attracted a modest crowd to his Friday evening set, and many of those who did show up petered out when it became clear his setlist wasn’t a checklist of Smiths’ singles.
Other than lovely versions of “Everyday Is Like Sunday” and “Suedehead,” the most recognizable track Morrissey delivered was an impassioned, aggressive take on the Smiths’ “Meat Is Murder.”
For an artist who frequently demands venues go vegetarian if he performs there, it was curious that he graced the meat-friendly Firefly with his presence. But Morrissey took the festival’s open-meat policy as an invitation for vociferous preaching. While he sang the title track to the Smiths’ classic second album, images of factory animals being beaten, tormented and slaughtered flashed behind him. The footage was accompanied by captions, revealing abuses both international and domestic (footage of animals in the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the U.S. was especially disturbing).
And Moz wasn’t just preaching to the choir. Not far from the stage was a food truck vendor called Sum Pig (selling swine, unsurprisingly) and a taco truck. While the taco truck had three varied vegetarian options, it still offered pork and chicken — which was consumed by plenty of Morrissey fans less than 15 minutes after the final image of “Meat Is Murder” flashed on the screen.
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That final image, incidentally, was a title card challenging the audience with the words “What’s your excuse now?” Clearly, many Morrissey fans weren’t perturbed enough by the footage to change their dietary habits, but the disturbing footage nevertheless stood out as a rarity at Firefly, or any festival for that matter — an instance of an artist forcing fans to confront a troubling reality that people typically shrug off during their daily lives. Hell, even if you’re interested in learning more about factory farming, most people don’t want to do it at a festival they’ve paid hundreds of dollars to attend and unwind at.
But that’s the compelling beauty of Morrissey. While a plethora of performers pretend like they don’t give a fuck, he really doesn’t.