I’ll probably spend most of the day listening to Morrissey after going to the show last night at The Orpheum, a show that will easily be in my top-5 — not of 2007 but of all time. Look, I grew up listening to Morrissey and The Smiths. Some of the songs he performed last night I’ve been listening to for over 20 years. To get to see him perform “Everyday Is Like Sunday” or “How Soon is Now” or “Panic” in an environment as perfect as The Orpheum was special.
But as much as I love the early Morrissey stuff and The Smiths’ tunes, the concert highlights were all newer songs. Backing him was an impeccable 5-piece that included three guitarists (one switched to keyboards) a bass player and a drummer behind an enormous set that included a giant Yamaha bass drum laid on its side and a massive gong, both of which he used sparingly and to fine effect.
Morrissey came out after a short set by opener Kristeen Young, a New Yorker who sounds like a pedestrian cross between Kate Bush and Siouxie, playing keyboards and singing while backed by a drummer. These two-piece acts are getting tiresome beyond their novelty. There were a couple good songs there somewhere, but without a band backing her, they sounded hollow and lackluster and half-finished.
After her set, videos of cinema and music icons were shown on a large sheet hung across the stage, including a live performance by The New York Dolls from a European music show from the ’70s (as well as some homemade video of Johansen lighting a joint) and audition footage of James Dean for East of Eden.
Then came Morrissey, dressed in tight slacks, baby-blue belt and an assortment of French-cuffed long-sleeve shirts opened down to his belly Tom Jones-style. Morrissey looks like a gay Irish gangster these days, stocky but not fat, letting his hair gray at the temples, and sweating-sweating-sweating. He went through three shirts soaked black with sweat, tossing the first to someone in the stage pit (who I assume wiped that pit sweat all over his or her face).
The set started rough soundwise, but kudos to the sound guy, who adjusted the rather brash din after the first song, bringing it to sonic perfection. Gorgeous balance, at least where I stood (there was no sitting in the Orchestra setion last night), about 7 rows from the stage on stage-right aisle. Staging included two giant black-and-white Warholian portraits of James Dean hung from the rafters and an assortment of motorized stage lights, klieg lights, blinking florescent lights, all effectively choreographed to the music, which leaned to the heavier side of Morrissey’s (and The Smith’s) catalog. Some people consider Morrissey ‘wimp music,’ I guess because of the emotional, confessional lyrics (the Pope of Mope blah-blah-blah), but his music actually is pretty hard, at times bordering on punk. Cutting through the gritty static guitar noise and the throbbing rhythms is Morrissey’s sweetie-pie voice that soars high and clean like the best of Sinatra crooners. Though at times huge and majestic, no one writes a melody with a sense of melancholy like Morrissey, and no one performs those songs quite like him, preening and prancing across stage, swinging his microphone chord like a whip, raising his eyebrows in mock concern. And always sweating like Tom Jones or Engelbert Humperdinck and all the other stage idols before him (but without scarf-throwing cheesiness) — it was almost an Elvis sort of thing. Morrissey reached out and shook hands all night, and only at the end — when a couple fans were invited on stage — did the barrier get broken, one woman handing him her baby daughter which he twirled in his harms before handing her back. Meanwhile, off stage left, a guy dressed in a Union Jack tried to rush Morrissey only to get pushed back to the floor by a Buddha-sized bodyguard.
The between-song patter was limited to pre-scripted comments, except for when Morrissey talked about how one of his favorite people was from Lincoln. Who was it? Dick Cavett, strangely, though if you know Cavett’s background it makes sense. So while he was happy and personable and funny, it was the music that was center stage. The highlights — a brooding version of “Life is a Pigsty” that built for eight minutes or more, ending with Morrissey crumpled on his back with his arms across his face only to be reborn by a shrill, opening siren chords of “How Soon is Now?” The other highlight — a gritty version of “Ganglord,” a b-side off “The Youngest Was the Most Loved” single, and the closest he’s ever come to the dark power of “How Soon is Now?” I hadn’t heard Ringleader of the Tormentors before this concert. I own it now, and am convinced it may be one of his best, though my judgment will always be colored by last night’s performance.
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A couple shows worth mentioning tonight if you’re out and about: At The Waiting Room it’s Landing on the Moon with Fromanhole, Clair de Lune (said to be their last show ever) and Self Evident. $7, 9 p.m., while over at O’Leaver’s it’s punk rock gods The Shanks with electro-punkers Cloven Path and Ric Rhythm, $5, 9:30 p.m.
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