Morrissey @ Strathmore Music Center (1/16/13)
There are music fans. There are music fanatics. And then there are Morrissey fans. Intensely passionate, slavishly knowledgeable, emotional, irrational and self-righteous, they take hero-worship to a level that even Elvis might envy. The generation-defining music he made with The Smiths and the tunefully perceptive insights of his surprisingly strong solo career place Moz into a level of the rock pantheon alongside the likes of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen (at least among the hipster generation). And Morrissey seems determined to continue to do it his way. Clever enough to recognize his own capabilities (if not his limitations), the man is an institution unto himself, uncompromising and unapologetic.
Of course, like most rock stars, Morrissey both accepts and rejects the devotional adulation that places him above his fans. His ambiguous relationship with his fans is even more complicated when you consider that most of them disagree with Morrissey’s personal points of view, which he willingly expresses on a regular basis, both in song and in the press. The privilege of watching such a paradox play out in person at the Strathmore Music Center was a revelation of sociology and hagiography.
While the pre-show build-up lacked Morrissey impersonators or group sing-a-longs, the lead up to Morrissey’s entrance was almost as much of a spectacle as the show itself. After the opening set by Tori Amos wannabe Kristeen Young, the interlude consisted of a series of music videos by Moz’s self-professed favorite artists, including David Bowie and the New York Dolls, followed by a movie clip of a cabaret performer kvetching about the perils of being a star. Abruptly, the screen went up, the lights went down, and the band strode onto stage, all dressed in identical uniforms of white shirts and dark jeans.
At the start, some of my usual fears about performance quality began unfolding uncomfortably, as the band lead off with limp versions of “Shoplifters of the World Unite” and “Everyday is Like Sunday.” The set seemed destined to play out as a parody, like a weak Smiths cover band. Thankfully, the band came to life as the show wore on, with the backing band (especially the guitar player) managing the impressive feat of not only matching but in some cases outshining Morrissey’s unique voice, an instrument unto itself. Ripping through a collection of solo and Smiths songs, they alternatively revved and entranced the crowd with a frighteningly musical performance. Predictably, the Smiths songs drew the loudest response and were admirably performed, but the solo songs received the most impassioned treatment.
Aside from performing well-known songs, crowd-pleasing is not a trait you would expect from the stoic Moz. Yet the seemingly endless tradition of music fans reaching out their hands to receive the slightest passing brush with their hero was received by Morrissey if not enthusiastically, then at least continually throughout the show. Morrissey also refrained from his tendency towards moralistic preaching, aside from one throwaway comment, instead choosing to occasionally foray into infrequent banter with the audience (though he seemed good at ignoring most shouts and song requests). That said, he gave the people what they came for, if not what they expected. “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” was transformed into a slowly building dirge, filled with swirling effects and pounding rhythm. By contrast, his paean to veganism, “Meat is Murder,” was offered up as a thundering rocker to close the main set, tearing apart the gentle confines of the Music Center with violent imagery and shattering noise. Even this incongruity failed to diminish the crowd’s enthusiasm, though I pointedly refused to even accept the existence of the song’s performance by spending the entire song with my back turned to the stage.
The blind devotion of Morrissey fandom reared its full head during the encore performance of “How Soon is Now?” in a scene straight out of Tommy. An overly-rambunctious fan leapt up on stage and gave Morrissey so strong of a hug that it pulled him away from the mic. The intruder was quickly torn away and pancaked by security, but strangely was allowed to meekly return to his seat, rather than being immediately rejected. After the show, I remarked to Erica about the odd fascination with wanting to hug a sweaty old man. I was quickly challenged by a nearby fellow concert-goer, who chimed in with his willingness to do the same. His opinion was quickly seconded (and thirded, and fourthed, etc.) by a succession of fans. Long live the King!
- Shoplifters Of The World Unite (The Smiths song)
- Everyday Is Like Sunday
- Action Is My Middle Name
- You Have Killed Me
- You’re The One For Me, Fatty
- I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris
- Ouija Board, Ouija Board
- Black Cloud
- Still Ill (The Smiths song)
- Alma Matters
- I Know It’s Over (The Smiths song)
- Let Me Kiss You
- November Spawned A Monster
- People Are The Same Everywhere
- One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell
- Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want (The Smiths song)
- Meat Is Murder (The Smiths song)
- How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths song)