Morrissey. Wednesday, May 23, at the Uptown Theater.
Concert Review by Jason Harper
No one can say that Morrissey went about things the wrong way last night at the Uptown.
Arriving on stage in a dapper blue suit, which the nearly 50-year-old singer rapidly shed as his sweat glands kicked into fifth gear, the Moz looked like a suburban father home from a hard day at work and violently in need of a cocktail. All the chaps in the band, including guitarists Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias, were clad in identical getups of candy blue vests and trousers and red Oxford shirts with the sleeves rolled up past the elbows. Given their youth (with the expection of Boz), they looked as if Morrissey had hand picked them from some Irish boys' bugle corps academy -- an impression that was cemented when one of the musicians blasted out a couple of solos (erring on the flat side) on trumpet and trombone. And then there was the backdrop: two giant, tiled photos of James Dean. There was a lot of lad on the stage that night.
The fast-paced, 20-odd-song show began with a sunburn-inducing "The Queen is Dead," all strobes and bombast, setting the tone for most of the other Smiths songs the band would roll out -- like the originals, but all-around bigger, with drums that could rattle a London tenement. Next, the band jumped about 20 years forward, plowing into "First of the Gang to Die" from M's 2004 solo record You Are the Quarry. It's a story of a gangster who stole from the rich and the poor/And the not very rich/And the very poor (Dorky admission: I put that lyric up for my MySpace headline last night, and a friend asked if it referred to Dennis Moore). Morrissey's such a damn great lyricist.
He's also a bit of a silly fop. In addition to his trademark lashing of the microphone cord about like a ribbon, he sauntered dashingly, occasionally beating his chest in half-irony and bending down to touch the first rows' outstretched hands. Rolling an occasional "r" in overenunciation and lolling his tongue at the end of a few lines, especially at the beginning of the night, the king of pop self-loathing doesn't even take himself seriously in performance. "It's a turgid Wednesday night, and through bad timing and bad luck you find yourself here," he said before "You Have Killed Me."
He's famous for sweating through three or four dress shirts a show, and when the shirt he began the set in became too soaked to go on, Morrissey removed it right there in front of everyone immediately after singing the line But then you open your eyes/And see someone you physically despise in "Let Me Kiss You." Way to sell that bod, Moz. His bare torso was polarizing; some women nearly rushed onstage, others got the heebs. Me, I wanted to high five him. He's fit for 48, come on! Bronze and barrel-chested, like Spartacus-era Kirk Douglas. (Well, maybe not that bronze and barrel-chested.)
Yes, Morrissey's aged. But his voice hasn't, and even though he's made high art of self-deprecation, he's got charisma, power and massive sex appeal -- a comfort to all of us relentless self-critics. And when the strobes began firing down at the audience, almost in time with the unmistakable, stuttering guitar riff of set closer "How Soon Is Now," the illuminated faces of the fans reflected the ecstasy of a crowd affirmed.