As a Mancunian, seeing Morrissey perform live in Tel Aviv was a surreal experience. While the crowd at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds on Saturday night knew all the words to the legendary singer’s songs and seemed genuinely excited to be there, the show didn’t have the same grit and authenticity that a show in Manchester, or anywhere in the UK for that matter, would have.
The audience at the relatively small Bitan 1 Hall, made up mainly of Tel Avivians in their 30s, probably grew up listening to the now 53-year-old Steven Patrick Morrissey from Manchester as the lyricist and vocalist of the The Smiths and later as a solo artist.
However, they were somewhat restrained in showing their excitement in the same way that is customary at similar shows in England.
But the absence of excessive jumping and screaming words out loud doesn’t mean the Israeli crowd didn’t appreciate the vocal genius gracing them with his presence; they just had a different way of showing it.
Morrissey came on stage to rapturous applause and when the crowd noticed that two of the drums were covered with Israeli flags, the cheers became louder. He stood on stage with his band, four of them wearing red T-shirts saying “THUG” along with one guitarist dressed in drag, and before he began singing he gave the crowd a short, direct message: “War is old, art is young.”
He then went straight into The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?,” and despite a slight technical hitch affecting the sound, he delivered like the professional that he is. He kept the atmosphere going with “Everyday is Like Sunday” and by this point nearly everyone was singing along. The more recent “You Have Killed Me” was not as well received, but this gave the crowd a chance to relax after an explosive beginning.
Unable to refrain from talking politics, the outspoken star spoke briefly about revolutions, and insisted that: “The people have the power.” As well as politics, Morrissey also found time for some cheeky northern humor between songs and when introducing his band, he claimed that the name of his guitarist was “Gayner Tension,” which when said fast enough sounded like “gain attention.”
After the brief political diversion and comic interlude, it was back to business, and the legendary “I Know it’s Over” got everyone singing along. Morrissey’s rendition of the harrowing Smiths classic even had some of the audience in tears.
Morrissey’s next announcement was probably the most unexpected of the night. He said he had something he wanted to boast about and then proceeded to show off a key to the city of Tel Aviv that he claimed he had received earlier in the day from Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
Other highlights of the night included his rendition of the The Smiths’ “Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me” and “Still Ill,” which finally got everyone jumping up down and singing along.
Before launching into “Meat is Murder,” Morrissey took the opportunity to highlight his well-known vegetarian ideology as well as discontent for fame-hungry pop stars and told the crowd: “Now I have my key to the city: No more Doner kebabs, KFC or McDonald’s, and most important of all, no more Madonna!” After a mini costume change, Morrissey came back on stage wearing a less flamboyant shirt than the revealing one he was wearing for most of the show. He proceeded to rip off the new shirt, only to replace it with slightly ruffled white shirt. After coming back for an encore, he thanked the crowd in his own unique way: “You think you’re a man, you think you’re a woman! How do you know? All I will say, from the heart of my bottom, is thank you!” Finishing the show wrapped in an Israeli flag that he had previously been waving around on stage, Morrissey had succeeded in capturing the hearts of every person in the audience. Even if the Tel Aviv crowd didn’t show their appreciation in the way that is customary in Manchester, it was clear by the end of the night that the show was a success.