Glasgow belongs to Morrissey - but why? : Rock : THE CRITICS

Click to follow
IT'S QUITE a feat to get a hall full of Scots shouting along with the hymn about England's green and pleasant land. But on Friday night, Glasgow belonged to Morrissey. The Barrowlands shook with a chorus of his name (to the tune of "Here wego, here we go, here we go"), even before a tape of "Jeru-salem" started the show. The rarity of Morrissey's British tours has done his legend no harm. The fans are not to be put off by a couple of relatively ill-received albums and some less than charming use of jingoistic imagery. Morrissey's latest - and greatest - solo LP, Vauxhalland I (Parlophone), and the effortlessly human new single, "Boxers", would have restored their faith anyway.

A few of them had Morrissey tattoos, and hundreds sported his trademark pointed quiff, short back and sideburns. And that, as they say, was just the women. Only small fragments of the show passed without at least one stage-invader giving the star a hug.

But maybe the stars were Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte. Most of the songs in the hour-long set were from Vauxhall and I, which Boorer and Whyte co-wrote with Morrissey, and they made a joyous job of recreating their intertwined, trebly jangles. One of them even played guitar with his teeth during a camp cover of "Moon River", from the new World of Morrissey compilation.

The man himself looked and sounded exactly as he always does, his mannered voice trembling between disdain and heartbreak. If, that is, his heart was in it. As in his last shows at the end of 1992, he moved lethargically, as if he were wading rather thanwalking across the stage. He lobbed a tambourine into the audience and whiplashed his microphone lead, but he went through these motions without much urgency or desire to make the show special. Make of it what you will, but "The National Front Disco" from Your Arsenal was when he and the band were most alive.

There was little sign of his past: the only Smiths song we got was "Shoplifters of the World Unite", and that was the encore. Nor was there much evidence of his acidic wit. Of the three sentences he addressed to the crowd, the most piquant was: "I'm sorry, I know I'm a bit slow now, but I'm old." I wish I'd said that, Oscar.

In Blur's tour video, Starshaped, the band - the Smiths of the Nineties - visit Stonehenge. "It's a bit like seeing Morrissey," offers the guitarist. "Not quite as big as you thought, know what I mean?" I know what he means.

Siouxsie and the Banshees were less lucky with their audience on Wednesday. The first thing Siouxsie said to us was: "You're gonna be getting a lot of new stuff, so don't be shy of it." The second thing she said, immediately before "Dear Prudence", was: "OK, we relent, you might know this one."

The third thing, expletives excluded, was: "This new song is for anyone else out there who's awake."

The fourth thing, expletives excluded, was: . . . well, without the expletives she didn't say much at all.

Morrissey's erstwhile duetting partner was in a mood as black as her audience's lipstick (and, yes, that was just the men). This was partly because the Portsmouth Guildhall was by no means full, but mainly because those who did attend were not familiar with the new Banshees release The Rapture (Polydor). It's a pity, because the album is a vibrant collection of listener-friendly songs, or as listener-friendly as songs can be while containing the lyrics: "I spit my bile in an airless temper/In this vacuum a vampire reversed."

Tonight's material was mainly from The Rapture, though rapture was not the first word to spring to mind when describing the audience reaction. But the arrangements displayed what a superb band the Banshees have become. Special mention goes to Martin McCarrick, for his spellbinding keyboard and cello, but each member produced a rich array of textures that fit together snugly, rather than smothering each other.

If there was a weak link, it was Siouxsie herself. She used to look like an other-worldly incubus. Now, in her spangly white tunic and black beehive, she looks like a woman dressed up as an other-worldly incubus. She flailed and swayed drunkenly and stretched out her arms in her spell-casting pose. But the magic didn't quite work.

It was obvious from the start of Mavis Staples' show at London's Jazz Cafe that it was going to be a high-class affair. The bassist had a six-string bass. The guitarist had a silk handkerchief in his top pocket and lizard-skin shoes. Both musicians wore razor-sharp suits. Even the keyboard player was somehow cool, despite looking like Hugh Laurie in a poodle wig. They warmed up with two R&B jams before Staples arrived. They were showing off, certainly, but they had a lot to show off about and they had to get in their 15 minutes of fame before the grand dame made her entrance.

Staples , now 55, was lead vocalist of the 1960s-70s gospel group, the Staple Singers, and opened her show with their 1973 hit, "If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)". "No hatred will be tolerated," she pronounced. "Peace and love between the races/No disaster, no war will be declared." Such is her authority that you start to believe this. You can imagine God thinking twice about setting off an earthquake during one of her concerts.

As she performed the staple Staple songs "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There" she radiated a charisma and warmth that had both the crowd and the band grinning. But what we were there for was her tremendous voice. It is drenched in soul even when she is just making some chewing noises. First it's a low raucous rasp, then a sinuous gasp, then she lets rip and shudders and rocks as if something big and scary were being exorcised from within her.

She concentrates on her early inspirational gospel-funk, but also dips into The Voice (Paisley Park), her latest album, produced by the "fine young man" who revived her career, Prince. He doesn't call himself Prince any more, of course, but Staples' permission is good enough for me. "I told him straight off that I wasn't even gonna try to pronounce that symbol," she said. She told the story of how she met the short purple one. First she was star-struck, but dealt with him much as she deals with hatred,disaster and war. "I said, `I don't want no teeny-bopper stuff, I need something with substance. I've been around a while.' '' The Artist Formerly Etc obliged with "Blood is Thicker than Time", a very Princely ballad but none the worse for that, which he based on what he knew of her family. This song, said Staples, proved that he truly understood her. It also proved that she might have a future to go with her glorious past.

The Black Crowes brought their reliably rock'n'roll show to the Albert Hall last Sunday, and the good ol' Southern boys got the audience dancing. Not quite as impressive as Morrissey's "Jerusalem" trick, but still quite an achievement considering the norm for the venue. Moments of theatricality were provided by three costume characters who popped up from behind the speakers occasionally: a devil, a pig (in a police uniform, the rebels) and a black crow in a candy-striped Uncle Sam suit. The band ignoredthem and concentrated on what they were doing.

Improving their craft, the Crowes tell interviewers, is what they are all about. And so they are more proficient on the new album Amorica (American Recordings) than they were on Shake Your Money Maker in 1990. But they have sacrificed much of the hedonistic party sound that made their name. The jazzy frills and dynamics of their new songs have taken them out of the bar room and into the wine bar. All that practice so you don't sound so much like the Rolling Stones, and you end up sounding like Jamiroquai instead.

Morrissey: Edinburgh Usher Hall, 031 228 9100, tonight; Sheffield City Hall, 0742 735295, Tues; Blackpool Winter Gardens, 0253 27786, Wed; Cambridge Corn Exchange, 0223 357851, Thurs; Birmingham Aston Villa Leisure Centre, 021 328 8330, Sat; and touring.Siouxsie: Reading University, 0734 393639, tonight; Cambridge Corn Exchange, 0223 357851, Tues; Norwich UEA, 0603 764764, Wed.