Watch The Smiths Play Their Last Live Show (December 12th, 1986)

It couldn’t have lasted—a flame burn­ing twice as bright, and so on. One of the best bands to emerge from the explo­sion of British new wave and post-punk in the 1980s, The Smiths built a tem­plate for thou­sands of mope-rock bands who fol­lowed. Long­stand­ing ani­mos­i­ty has meant that their brief time togeth­er con­tains their total lega­cy. No reunion shows or albums—despite rumors over the decades since they broke up in 1987; no ersatz ver­sion of the band, miss­ing key mem­bers but limp­ing ever on.

Live albums, com­pi­la­tions, and box sets may have appeared over the years, but they all con­tain music writ­ten, played, and record­ed between 1982 and 1987, a peri­od dur­ing which the song­writ­ing duo of Mor­ris­sey and Marr had as much cre­ative ener­gy and pur­pose as any of the famous song­writ­ing duos of twen­ty years ear­li­er. Love them or hate them—there seem to be few peo­ple in-between—The Smiths’ impor­tance to alter­na­tive and indie rock is inescapable.

Like many oth­er huge­ly influ­en­tial bands in pop­u­lar music, the mythol­o­gy can eclipse the com­plex­i­ties. Unmen­tioned in many a glow­ing account, for exam­ple, are the unsung one­time-mem­bers who played bass or gui­tar at points in the band’s short life—most sig­nif­i­cant­ly gui­tarist Craig Gan­non, some­times called the “fifth Smith.” Gan­non played on such sem­i­nal hits as “Ask” and “Pan­ic” before being let go from the band before they played their final con­cert, an Artists Against Apartheid ben­e­fit at London’s Brix­ton Acad­e­my on Decem­ber 12th, 1986. See it above in a fan-record­ed video.

Delayed after Marr was in a car acci­dent, the con­cert shows them back to their core four line­up, reunit­ed with fired, then rehired (then arrest­ed) bass play­er, Andy Rourke. They play “Shoplifters of the World Unite” from their upcom­ing final album, 1987’s Strange­ways, Here We Come; they play The Queen is Dead’s “Some Girls Are Big­ger Than Oth­ers” for the first, and last, time live onstage; they end the night where they began, with their very first sin­gle, “Hand in Glove.” No one knew at the time that it would be their last gig, includ­ing the band.

They con­tin­ued on for the next few months, record­ing, mak­ing TV appear­ances, and pon­der­ing a major label move. Dif­fer­ences per­son­al, legal, and cre­ative soon drove the four mem­bers apart. They have all con­tin­ued to con­tribute sig­nif­i­cant­ly to the direc­tion of alter­na­tive rock, as sup­port­ing play­ers, super­star indie gui­tarists, and, well, Mor­ris­sey. We might wish for a more pol­ished doc­u­ment of their last show, but so it is. Fans are extreme­ly unlike­ly to ever get chance to see it hap­pen again.

“Yes, time can heal,” wrote Mor­ris­sey in his often embit­tered auto­bi­og­ra­phy. “But it can also dis­fig­ure. And sur­viv­ing the Smiths is not some­thing that should be attempt­ed twice.” We should count our­selves lucky—those of us in the love-the-Smiths camp—that they sur­vived as long as they did, pro­duc­ing jan­g­ly, gor­geous, snide, maudlin, and mor­bid­ly hilar­i­ous indie-pop gems from the very begin­ning to the very end of their maybe-per­fect­ly-con­cise career.

See the full setlist below:

Big­mouth Strikes Again
London/Miserable Lie
Some Girls Are Big­ger Than Oth­ers (only live per­for­mance)
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
Shoplifters Of The World Unite
There Is A Light That Nev­er Goes Out
Is It Real­ly So Strange?
Ceme­try Gates
This Night Has Opened My Eyes
Still Ill
/The Queen Is Dead
//William It Was Real­ly Noth­ing
//Hand In Glove

via Son­ic More Music

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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The Fall’s Mark E. Smith’s (RIP) Cre­ates a List of His Favorite Books, Films & Music, Cir­ca 1981

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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