Morrissey. A thrill rippled through the audience during the familar hits
Morrissey. A thrill rippled through the audience during the familar hits. Photo by Daniel Tchetchik
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The social networks were all abuzz with excited tweets and Facebook status updates about Morrissey's second performance in Israel and the social-justice protest marking the death of Moshe Silman, who set himself on fire at a demonstration on July 14.

While American singer-songwriter Kristeen Young was providing the official warm-up for the concert at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Saturday, political activist Reuven Abergel was shouting from an improvised stage at the start of a demonstration in front of the Amidar Public Housing Authority, sending shivers down the spines of an audience of thousands who now understood his message as one of the leaders of the Black Panther movement back in the 1970s.

The conditions for the show by the former front man of The Smiths, and now a successful solo performer, were not as good as those for Morrissey's previous gig in Israel. First of all, most members of the audience had already realized their dream of seeing their idol live and hoarsely singing along with the old favorite and clever songs of loneliness and rebuke. Secondly, after a stormy street demonstration, a Morrissey performance seems like something of a sing-along event.

For the most part, Morrissey fans prefer the old and the familiar to the new and the unexpected. And this is exactly what makes a performance by Morrissey less a rock 'n' roll concert than a visit by a beloved uncle who knows exactly which candies make the children happy. A likeable, indie uncle. Thus, when he sang his familiar hits a thrill rippled through the audience and thousands of throaty voices burst into song, but during lesser-known songs the audience used the time to plow through to crowd to buy more vegan hot dogs (Morrissey had forbidden the sale of meat at the venue ) or to get updates on Twitter about the demonstrators' attempt to block the Ayalon Highway.

The opening notes of the gig were electrifying. This was the instantly recognizable, choppy guitar of The Smiths' "How Soon is Now?" - a song the band hardly ever played live, but which Morrissey has added to his list of regulars in the past decade. He continued the momentum with more of The Smiths' favorite hits, along with numbers from his solo career like "Everyday is Like Sunday."

The members of his tight backup band played in matching T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Thug," except for guitarist Boz Boorer, who came on dressed in drag with a Buster Brown wig as a character called Gaynor Tension (a play on "gain your attention" ). At moments, especially in the second half of the performance, Morrissey seemed self-absorbed, but he threw out words in Hebrew to declare "War is old, art is young" and "The people have power." He told us how moved he was to receive the keys to Tel Aviv and that soon he would change some things in the city: "No more kebab, no more Kentucky Fried Chicken, no more McDonalds and no more Madonna" - declarations that brought particular joy to the audience and served as an introduction to The Smiths' "Meat is Murder." The song was accompanied by a video featuring some challenging behind-the-scenes images from the meat industry.

Later, Morrissey stripped off his shirt, wrapped himself in an Israeli flag and mentioned the possibility of a war with Syria, changing the words to "Shoplifters of the World Unite." But most of the time the magic for which we audience members had gathered was absent. "Get into it, Morrissey," someone behind me in the crowd kept urging, and maybe there was something in what he was saying. Others were disappointed by the key songs that were missing from the performance.

Anyone for whom Morrissey has provided the soundtrack to moments in his or her life was thrilled to hear this voice so close up and live, but those feelings were moments of grace in an event accompanied by a sense of dissonance. The pleasurable self-pity, the sense of intimacy and misanthropy in hits like "Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me" lose their power in a mass rock concert in Israel.