The Smiths Live, Kilburn, October 23, 1986

I had a super long day yesterday and when I got home at 11:00 pm I saw that there was an email from my brother Jorge:

So, I was listening to the Smiths’ Rank the other day, which served as my introduction to many of the songs on The Queen Is Dead. Many consider that album to be the Smiths’ best, but I’ve always been partial to Meat Is Murder. Still, I have learned to appreciate The Queen… tremendously over the years. That led me to look up some old reviews of the Smiths’ albums, and I discovered that the Rank concert was recorded in its entirety and broadcast on the BBC back in the day and that there was a bootleg LP of the concert circulating called The Bad Boy from a Good Family. The full concert included five or six additional songs that (when I saw the titles) made me wonder how such complex songs would have translated live. I just had to hear them, so I googled that bootleg and after much unsuccessful searching, I stumbled upon this video of the entire Rank concert in the most obvious of places, YouTube.

It has all the makings of a shitty concert video The shaky footage was shot by some schmuck in the audience. Whoever posted it on YouTube took the video footage and mixed it with the BBC audio but couldn’t access the audio for three of the songs that didn’t make the album, so they used the video’s audio. That seemed like a fiasco from the start, but on top of that the Smiths themselves (with an additional guitarist, no less) are crammed onto this tiny stage with hardly any room to move, playing in this non-descript, cavernous ballroom in the dark, practically, because of the downright sad lighting rig they were using. Yet it is one of the most spellbinding live concert videos I’ve ever heard or seen. I watched the whole thing from start to finish and kept getting these intense goosebumps throughout. They are clearly at the peak of their powers and they sound incredible. Most of the live versions of these songs are superior to their original recordings in terms of energy, emotion, and skill. Even the songs you can’t imagine them pulling off as well as their recordings, like “I Know It’s Over,” “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” and “How Soon Is Now?” are absolutely sublime. The irony is that they broke up a mere three months after this show.

Check it out when you get a chance and tell me what you think.

Intrigued, I figured I’d have a beer and watch a few songs from the concert before going to bed. I ended up watching the whole thing.

When the shaky camera came on I immediately thought, “oh, this is going to be rough…” and even though he warned me about all of that we contemporary humans are so used to high end visuals nowadays. It’s shaky. Like, really shaky. But 45 seconds in and I began to involuntarily ignore the camera. It became no big deal.

I’m familiar with the Rank recording— I think I made a tape copy of my brother’s CD way back in the day when I lived in Austin (1994?)— so all of the little twerks that Morrissey does like rolling an R in a lyric were like an old friend coming back. I found myself even thinking about places I was at when hearing certain songs. The most notable was hearing “I Know It’s Over” while driving through Arizona when I went to go visit the campus at UoA. I actually balled crying in the car to that song with the sun at a wicked angle blinding me and those crazy Roadrunner and Coyote rock formations everywhere. I’m surprised I didn’t crash with all of those distractions. It was something about the line “it’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind.” Every time I hear that, especially because it’s Morrissey saying it— all those hateful (and funny) lyrics, I tear up. It’s like he’s always known the answers.

My brother was right, the songs are heavier, with more emotion but still wonderfully restrained, and that’s what makes The Smiths The Smiths. They are so sinister because they cut you with cleverness and clean, jangly guitars. Sneaky, treasonous music. They were writing music during the heart of heavy metal (and I was, embarrassingly, WAY into metal when The Smiths were active) and THAT was supposed to be wild music. In all honestly, Smiths songs always felt more dangerous.

What impressed me the most about this concert? Morrissey doesn’t showboat and go off between songs. He just stands there, throws his arms around every 5 minutes or so, and just sings. He is 100% compelling. I’ve never seen someone cross an arm across their chest while singing and it being so wonderfully powerful. The whole band barely moved, it didn’t matter. Incredibly great songs. Consistent. A fantastic model on how to do it right. I’ve since read that it was the guitarist, Johnny Marr, who had had enough of the band. Morrissey loved singing in the Smiths. Another unexpected twist as it’s usually the egomaniac singer who leaves.

I listened to the whole thing with headphones on, fairly loud. I went to bed at 1:00 am. There are a lot of nights that are easily forgotten but I won’t forget that one easily. Highly recommended.

Sound – Image – Word