Usually I start off my show reviews by testing your patience with an anecdotal story about my personal connection with the artist I'm seeing. Then I place the musician in some larger genre and/or historical context, and wax poetic about what makes them extraordinary among countless other bands.
For the entire duration of Kristeen Young's opening set I stood in line for a t-shirt. To be fair, it's now one of the most ridiculous shirts I own, and Moz IS my shepherd.
It's utterly pointless for me to try to do this for Steven Patrick Morrissey. For longer than I have been alive, music journalists have chipped away at the man, dissected his lyrics, and sought to explain his appeal. All in all, like so many other people, I spend a lot of time with Morrissey's music. I don't think I'll ever come up with a way to artfully explicate it, but he makes me feel less alone, and he will probably always mean a great deal to me.
Walking up to the Moore Theatre in the pouring rain, I first heard a pat-down security guard barking "No flowers! No iPads!" which might be one of the strangest introductions I've had to a show. Inside the mood was dizzying; this being my first Morrissey show, I didn't know if there was always this much excitement in the air for one of his concerts, or if it was a lot of pent up anticipation. (The concert was originally scheduled for November before being pushed back so Moz could attend to his ill mother. He's also had a bout of health scares that led to some cancellations on this US tour.)
I got to my balcony seat late, just in time to see the end of a PETA video with Joaquin Phoenix. Before Morrissey took the stage, there was a series of music videos that had to be curated by the man himself. Mighty Joe, Small Faces, Françoise Hardy, Sparks, Nico, and, of course, the New York Dolls all warmed up the crowd. The setlist started off with "Shoplifters of the World Unite," taking me a little bit by surprise to hear a Smiths song so early. The song had barely started when I asked my date what he thought so far. "It sounds like everyone is screaming back at him. But in a good way."
I have no way of quantifying this, but by the time the band started their fifth song of the night, "Speedway," it seemed like they started hitting their groove. But I might be biased because it is, in my opinion, one of Moz's best. The biggest problem I've always had with Morrissey's solo work is that it doesn't have Johnny Marr in it. (Can I admit here that I first got into the Smiths because I thought that just the instrumental music was some of the best stuff I'd ever heard?) Seeing this show tonight certainly gave me more of an appreciation for Moz's band. Normally I would find things like a gong onstage totally ostentatious, but it seemed appropriate tonight, especially for songs I normally pass over. (I'm mostly thinking about "November Spawned a Monster" here, whose video had long spoiled the song for me until last night.)
Considering all the praise Morrissey gets for his wit, I should have more funny banter to report on, but I don't. I think at this stage in his career, Morrissey knows that he really doesn't have to do a whole lot to whip an audience up into a frenzy. All it takes is a slow crouch to his knees at the end of a song, or a reach of his hand towards the people in the front, and it will send everyone to their feet. If there was a single moment when all-hell-broke-loose, it was at the end of "Let Me Kiss You," when Moz took off his shirt and hurled it into the audience.
The toughest part of the night for me was when the band played "Meat is Murder." For all that Morrissey has personally affected people's lives, he can also make it difficult to be a fan. In Morrissey's world there aren't any grey areas. (Except, perhaps, his sexuality.) Everything is absolute, so he often places a premium on being militant rather than showing any tact. I'm (an admittedly recently converted) vegetarian, but I still don't see why he needs to accompany live performances of the song with visuals of chickens and cows being butchered. I took an informal survey around me during the song, and it looked like most concert goers were squirming in their seats, covering their eyes, uploading photos on Instagram, or taking an opportunity to go the bathroom. The only person I saw who was transfixed on the visuals was Morrissey himself; he couldn't take his eyes off the screen.
The concert quickly picked up again, especially for the later Smiths songs. Tears welled up when I heard "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want." "How Soon is Now?" totally bowled me over, a glorious cathartic moment. I was giddy, moon-eyed, and ridiculously singing along when I heard, quite possibly, my favorite song of all time, "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side" played during the encore. This might have been one of the only concerts I've been to in the past five years where, once it was over, I still wasn't ready to go home yet.
"I suppose it's necessary to tell everyone everything," is something I remember Morrissey saying last night. I'm a little too frazzled to remember when he said that, or really what he meant by it. But I have to thank him, for finding it necessary to say everything to everyone. My life wouldn't be the same without him and his big mouth.
"Shoplifters of the World Unite" "Alma Matters" "Everyday is Like Sunday" "Irish Blood, English Heart" "Speedway" "Maladjusted" "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris" "Action is My Middle Name" "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" "Ouija Board, Ouija Board" "November Spawned a Monster" "Still Ill" "People Are the Same Everywhere" "Meat is Murder" "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" "You Have Killed Me" "Let Me Kiss You" "How Soon is Now?"