Morrissey thrilled to be in ‘God’s country’ as he performs first of two shows

Beloved former frontman for The Smiths appeared tired during tight 75-minute concert at Binyamina amphitheater, but Israeli crowd seemed delighted to see him anyway

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Former Smiths frontman and solo artist Morrissey performed in Binyamina's Amphi Shuni July 2, 2023 (YouTube screengrab; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Former Smiths frontman and solo artist Morrissey performed in Binyamina's Amphi Shuni July 2, 2023 (YouTube screengrab; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

English singer Morrissey brought his crisp baritone and familiar, turmoil-filled lyrics to Amphi Shuni in the northern town of Binyamina Sunday night, and while all 1,350 seats of the restored Roman amphitheater were full to bursting with dedicated fans, Morrissey himself seemed a little, well, listless.

He was happy enough to be there, calling out to the crowd, “Binyamina, Binyamina, bring me home, take me in your arms,” at the start of the tight, 75-minute show.

“I’m very happy to be here in God’s country, the heart of the world,” said Morrissey, who’s also performing on July 4 in Tel Aviv. That certainly made the crowd of die-hard fans very happy.

Yet there was little energy and spirit to the 64-year-old Morrissey, who turned toward his band after each song to take a sip of something, moving slowly across the stage, sometimes shaking hands with audience members between numbers.

And while Morrissey has often proclaimed his love for the Jewish state through songs (“Israel” and “The Girl from Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel”) and statements, he didn’t sing either tune, nor did he say much about finally being in the country after four years away.

With a straightforward set of 19 songs, including three works from The Smiths — “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One,” “Half a Person” and “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” — Morrissey ran through a strong selection from his lengthy solo career, opening with “Suedehead,” moving into “Alma Matters,” “Stop Me” and “Irish Blood, English Heart.”

He warned the crowds that he doesn’t sing “Our Frank” well, though they didn’t agree, and then asked who will save France given the recent spate of riots, before rolling into “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris.”

When Morrissey commented that “it’s actually quite a relief to grow older, as obviously some of you know,” a fan shouted in response, “You’re beautiful!”

“Say that one more time?” said Morrissey, who was looking trim and fit in his dark shirt and pants.

The Israeli fans seemed to simply be happy that Morrissey was in town, and undeniably in love with the Englishman who has wrapped himself in an Israeli flag, received a key to the city of Tel Aviv and tried out some Hebrew in previous shows.

He’s also controversially anti-immigrant and has backed a white nationalist party in England, but it’s not Morrissey’s politics that draw his Israeli fans, who are mostly in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

They love his self-doubt, his honesty and frankness about himself and the world around him. Those raw words and thoughts touched them when they were teenagers, 30 years ago, and still resonate now.

That honesty is still there onstage, as when he told the audience while performing “The Loop” that they’d “nearly made it through to the end,” and then declared his love for them.

Morrissey was done by 10:15 p.m., having changed into a t-shirt for the encore, taken it off mid-song, smelt it and swung it into the crowd, not even waiting to finish singing before walking offstage.

“If you see any cats on the way home, hug them for me,” he said. “I love you. I say my thanks to you, etc. etc. etc.”

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