There is a modern proverb: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.”
To make it to this august institution’s stage, Morrissey said, “…it was by Grand Central Station I sat down and wept, ” after someone in the crowd asked.
Morrissey took to the stage bedecked in a fine tuxedo with his gang of gifted greasers, including long time collaborator Boz Boorer, and launched into The Smiths classic “This Charming Man,” a song that has as it’s chorus: “I would go out tonight/But I haven’t got a stitch to wear/This man said ‘It’s gruesome that someone so handsome should care’.”
The play of irony, and his signature mix of self-aggrandizement/self-effacement, passion/despondency and modern wit had begun.
“Black Cloud,” from his latest release, Years of Refusal, had Morrissey apoplectically waning: “Black cloud, black cloud, black cloud /I can choke myself to please you/and I can sink much lower than usual/but there’s nothing I can do/to make you mine.” Whomever or whatever he addressed as ‘black cloud’ could as easily have been a person or a deity. Regardless, the effect was not so much confusing as it was an affirmation of the resigned approach of a lover to his beloved.
“When Last I Spoke To Carol,” also from YOR, was lit by a hardened lament on the death of someone for whom the verb of love bitterly no longer applied: “When last I spoke to Carol I said: ‘I can’t pretend I feel love for you.’/She said: ‘I’ve hammered a smile across this pasty face of mine since the day I was born in 1975.’ /When I said goodbye to Carol/black earth upon the casket fell/she had faded to/something I always knew/to the rescue/nobody ever comes.”
When the opening guitar reverb of “How Soon Is Now?” rolled out unaltered, most in attendance regaled the band with cries of delight for The Smiths song that likely hooked them on The Bard of Manchester from the start. There were slight lyric changes, present in live performances of this song for around five years, from:
“You shut your mouth/How can you say/I go about things the wrong way [I live my life the wrong way]/I am Human and I need to be loved/Just like everybody else does,” and “There’s a club, if you’d like to go/You could meet somebody who really loves you” [You could meet someone who can actually understand you.] which made little difference in the impact of this anti-anthem.
In between songs throughout the 90 minute set, Morrissey husked his sweaty shirts, tossing them to the crowd and occasionally grabbed the hands of adoring fans. More than once he had to dodge man-boy stage invaders, one of whom managed to plant a kiss on his cheek before getting drilled by security.
Stage banter between songs was to say the least, interesting. He said, “I should tell you, it’s a great privilege to be in this hall, on the same stage which once was graced by Leonard Bernstein… and the entire cast of Lost In Space. It’s a privilege.” After introducing his band, leaving out himself, someone in the crowd asked audibly – “Who are you?” “Who am I? Who am I?” he asked himself. He answered his own questions within a beat, “I am the great and filthy tide of life.” Not much later, “I love you Morrissey!” came from a young woman he offered the microphone to. He promptly replied shaking his head in subtle disapproval, “I cannot be loved. I cannot be loved. I am like a dog from the rescue home.”
“Irish Blood, English Heart” from 2004’s You Are The Quarry had Morrissey “dreaming of a time when/To be English is not to be baneful/To be standing by the flag not feeling shameful, Racist or partial” – a ramjet echoing of his fellow and long dead English-Irishmen Oscar Wilde: “Patriotism is a virtue of the vicious,” and George Bernard Shaw: “Patriotism is a pernicious, psychopathic form of idiocy.” The song was his only foray into the arena of politics this evening, a topic which has gotten him into trouble in the past. Though when asked what he thought of our current global economic crisis he replied, “I honestly don’t care.”
“Let Me Kiss You, ” “Throwing My Arms Around Paris,” and “How Could Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel,” offered a triptych: pretend to love me though you and me know you couldn’t possibly, but embrace me nonetheless; in the absence of your false-positive love I know at least soulless “stone and steel accept my love”; and the third panel, which depicts a man who can’t accept love, nor respect, nor friendship from anyone because the offering of such to him points to their insanity in choosing him as the object of these human desires. The triptych’s mirror was his reaching for the hands and hearts of the front row while singing these songs.
The rest of the set, while played to different keys and tunes, offered much of the same – bitter, sentimental lamentations, dashed hopes for solitude and embrace, “love me, but I can’t be loved” themes, and mounds of invective tempered only by lyrical wit and a kind of messianic charm, most of which was swallowed whole by his most sycophantic and ardent admirers in the crowd.
Encore, “First Of The Gang To Die” transported us from the drab Manchester streets of Morrissey’s youth to the rain-slick streets of New York tonight with: “You have never been in love/Until you’ve seen the sunlight thrown/over smashed human bones/We are the pretty petty thieves/And you’re standing on our street/…where Hector was the first of the gang/with a gun in his hand/and the first to do time/the first of the gang to die – Such a silly boy.”
Hector via Morrissey’s delivery may have stolen all hearts away, but unless you were totally numb to begin with, or among the aforementioned sycophants, tonight’s performance most likely left you maimed in some way.
What Steven Patrick Morrissey, nearly 50, practices is the kind of song and stage craft which in part deals in the brooding, perennially dawning quiet desperation of the English way, and eviscerates and ignites that loam of gloom with his smoky baritone, injecting the poetry of the real and vignettes of city-street Manchester with Irish pith and flagellation of both the self and the other. In person he self-signifies as part fiendish cur and part demiurge. This is no small feat by any stretch of the imagination.
Though paradox reared its head like a carnival whack-a-mole tonight, Morrissey does live what popular artists rarely do well: give an accomplished performance and convey honesty no matter how stricken it is with his pain, illness, depravity, beauty and ugliness.
This Charming Man
When Last I Spoke To Carol
How Soon Is Now?
Irish Blood English Heart
Let Me Kiss You
I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris
How Could Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel
Seasick Yet Still Docked
I Keep Mine Hidden
The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores
Best Friend On The Payroll
Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed
One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell
Death Of A Disco Dancer
Sorry Doesn’t Help
Something Is Squeezing My Skull
I’m OK By Myself
First Of The Gang To Die