MUSIC REVIEW: THE SMITHS LTD @ Sale Waterside
Like The Smiths, The Smiths Ltd formed in Manchester. Their promotional material says: ?If you never saw The Smiths then this is your chance to experience the thrill of those great songs played live.? Well, I never saw The Smiths live, being so very young, but true to their word, The Smiths Ltd brought me closer to the real thing than I would have thought possible. The Smiths Ltd are the Smiths. The lead singer is Morrissey ? that?s all I need to say. I was expecting a theatrical pastiche of someone doing a bad Mozzer, but we got the real deal. His voice was amazing, every word and vocal inflection was perfect. The look is less important in a tribute band, but this could have been Morrissey in the ?Eighties; the face, the movements and mannerisms were mesmerising; an arrogant self-belief trapped behind a slight fey awkwardness.
The guitarist/Johnny Marr was similar in appearance to Smiths? Marr, while the bass player and drummer could be Rourke and Joyce as they are now. As high-lighted in recent years in The Smiths high-profile royalties court case, the two members of the rhythm section were ?parts of a lawn-mower who could be replaced?. No disrespect to these two talented musicians, but it?s Morrissey and Marr who the public know and recognise.
The standing venue was crowded with people of all ages, some younger people who were certainly born post-Smiths and some who were clearly old enough. And some older still.
Surprisingly, The Smiths only had four studio albums of new material, but their discography is cluttered with a mess of compilations which gather up their many non-album singles and odd tracks for different world markets. They shone for only five brief years, 1982 to 1987, and had split up before the release of their final album, Strangeways, Here We Come, but in that time they dominated the music scene and are considered today to be one of the most inspirational and memorable bands of the ?Eighties and indeed of British music. Ever.
The set opened with rousing single, Sheila Take A Bow which confirmed without doubt that this band were the closest to the Smiths we were ever going to get. William, It Was Really Nothing followed ? allegedly written to the late ? and sometimes great ? Billy MacKenzie of the Associates. The audience sang and danced along, though too many of them photographed and filmed the event instead of enjoying the moment.
Panic elicited an electric reaction from the crowd and Morrissey twirled a noose as he insistently incited the crowd to ?hang the DJ?. (At least one of his estranged bandmates is now a DJ, so this has become amusingly pertinent.)
For me ? and probably most people ? The Smiths output falls into two categories; the singles and singalongs that could have been singles versus the slower, introspective album tracks, which on first listen can sound like droning dirges. It was noticeable, but not surprising, that the crowd loved the former. The likes of non-single-singalong Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, had the audience singing along and dancing, while the slower, angst-ridden tracks saw people turning and chatting or heading to the bar. This is not a criticism of the Smiths Ltd, nor of the Smiths as musicians and songwriters, but perhaps the majority of these slower songs are better suited on vinyl * or CD# than at a gig.
* An outdated recording medium.
# An almost outdated recording medium.
At their best, the Smiths produced beautifully-crafted pop with influences from ?Sixties rock and post-punk. You need a pinch of salt to appreciate many of Morrissey?s lyrics. ?Behind the hate there lies a murderous desire for love.? Here is a troubled young man who craves love and is seemingly afraid of it in equal measures, who courts homoeroticism but admits to nothing, who is arrogant but also uncomfortable and anguished; a tortured youth who spent too much time alone, but loved music; intelligent, well-read, with a love of films and filmography and imagery from the past.
On stage in Sale, Morrissey held court with perfectly-captured sub-dad-at-a-wedding dance manoeuvres, sometimes effete, hands on hips, posturing, aimlessly swinging or flailing his arms. Someone in the audience handed him a bunch of gladioli, which he later used to swing around his head.
On Girlfriend in a Coma, the crowd joined in, every person knew every word, and rather than a football-crowd-like chant it was beautifully tuneful. This happened on The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, Ask and What Difference Does It Make? Someone called out for This Charming Man. ?Do you know any?? Morrissey replied. The request was denied as they were saving this classic for later.
It was a brave choice to play Meat Is Murder, but it paid off; it was chilling with red lights flooding the stage, a back-projection conjuring images of blood droplets. ?This beautiful creature must die.? It is poignant and powerful. ?It?s death for no reason and death for no reason is murder.? Poetically beautiful and profound.
Johnny briefly moved from guitar to keyboards ? or rather ?Eighties-style Roland synthesizer, for a couple of tracks, but then returned to guitar, as the Smiths were famously a guitar-based band, an antidote to the electronic excess of the manicured ?Eighties music scene. (For videos Morrissey rode round Manchester on a bike, rather than splashed about in the sea in Antigua ? and her name was never Rio, it was Sheila ? and she didn?t dance in the sand, she kicked the grime of this world in the crotch, dear.)
Singles alternated with album tracks, the high points being the singles: Shoplifters of the World Unite and at last This Charming Man, as requested earlier. Finally, Bigmouth Strikes Again ? with the crowd joining-in and the initial set was complete and the band exited to rapturous applause.
They returned shortly for an extended and value-for-money encore of the Queen is Dead, with a long rock play-out during which Morrissey waved a placard bearing the title. Then he asked: ?Would you like something miserable?? Well, yes? or we wouldn?t have come to see The Smiths. Heaven Knows I?m miserable now was brilliantly performed, followed by album track London and the hypnotic How Soon Is Now, which ignited the crowd, as Morrissey pined for consummation and an end to his youthful loneliness: a truly brilliant moment. Finally, the evening concluded with the perfect song to end on, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, in which Morrissey cynically declared undying love: ?If a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your die ? what a heavenly way to die.? The crowd were instructed to sing the repeated title-line at the end, which was again done beautifully and then show was sadly over and I just wanted more.
Many tribute acts are bad cabaret: The Smiths Ltd are brilliant ? a class act. They are indistinguishable from the Smiths. My only criticisms are around some of the song choices not being to my taste and a couple of crowd-pleasing tracks being omitted, (especially That Joke Isn?t Funny Anymore) but that?s just my taste. I can?t fault the musicianship or the performance. Like all truly great concerts I wanted to see it all again and was so sorry it was over and heaven knows I?m miserable now.
As they promise on their flyer: The Smiths Ltd ARE the ultimate tribute. ?The Smiths meant everything to a generation? To us they still do.?
Reviewed on: 15th September 2017
Reviewed by: Gray Freeman for North West End.
Star rating: ***** (4 stars)