Steven Morrissey is known as many things. Not quite a real person, but more like a musical entity, a legend, and a promise. His music promises to reach the part of ourselves that we may be ashamed of—vulnerability in particular. Former lead singer of ‘80s post-punk/new wave act the Smiths and longtime solo artist, Morrissey has celebrated the open and broken heart, all the while keeping his fans guessing regarding the state of his own hyper-ambiguous sexuality.
It was with open arms that New York welcomed Morrissey—first at the Bowery Ballroom, and next at the considerably larger Webster Hall. I took my place at the Webster performance, among an audience who surpassed me in age by about 10 years. And, after looking at the ticket prices, it seemed as though these concertgoers needed to reach as far into their wallets to see Morrissey on stage this evening as they had delved deep into their hearts to worship him some 20-plus years ago.
Years of Refusal
(Decca; US: 17 Feb 2009; UK: 16 Feb 2009)
The show began with a collection of vintage videos projected onstage, one including a New York Dolls performance introduced by a ‘70s German talk show host. After about 15 minutes, Morrissey leapt onstage looking, well, shall we say, a bit more robust than his greatest fans would remember him from back in the day (he has after all aged with the rest of them), but otherwise the Moz himself remained entirely unchanged. What was left of his graying hair was swept up in a pompadour and his blue-checkered shirt was unbuttoned at the top, revealing a few tufts of chest hair. “I just have one soul searching question to ask you: Where the hell am I?” asked Morrissey as he jumped into an old Smiths favorite, “This Charming Man”, which proved to be the perfect way to warm up his audience and kick off the set. Every fan worth his or her snuff knew the lyrics to many of the songs following, and made sure the person next to them knew them as well.
“Thank you, Westchester,” huffed Morrissey after the opening tracks commenced. The audience barely batted an eye and waited patiently for Morrissey to saunter into the next song. Steven Morrissey is the only artist who has and is allowed the audacity to (purposefully) forget the name of the city in which he is performing, even one with as much pride as New York. Swinging his microphone around to the tune of his solo staple “The First of the Gang to Die” and the deeply political “Irish Blood, English Heart”, Morrissey made sure to act every bit the pop star he knew he was. Announcing to us “ I am a myth,” by the third or fourth song, Morrissey dramatically ripped open his shirt and cast it into the crowd to one lucky bystander (and later changed into three new ones) while running his hands through his thinning hair. As the show went on and intensified in instrumentals, crowd members not only lost their minds, but a few of them succeeded in hurling themselves onstage, missing their Morrissey hug by inches, as they were pummeled offstage by security. Morrissey sang on, unruffled by his ardent fandom.
Morrissey’s performance may lead you to believe that he’s conceited, haughty, and pompous, but moving into pleading songs like “Let Me Kiss You” and another yearning Smiths classic “How Soon is Now?” delved into his deeply sensitive and mournful side with which we all forgive his former side. Eyebrows raised and eyes clenched tight, Morrissey tore into these tracks with just as much romantic ardor and zeal as he had when the songs were first penned, celebrating the miserable lyrics masked by impossibly catchy instrumentals.
Appearing in a crisp new shirt every 30 minutes, Morrissey pulled off an impeccably entertaining set. Although the “Master of Mope” has aged, sporting a thinning head of hair, lightly crinkled skin, and a burgeoning belly that kept threatening to look un-sucked in, Steven Morrissey’s voice remains as unblemished as ever. He is a self-proclaimed musical myth and a force beyond you, beyond me, and beyond words. Morrissey’s performance not only brought original new wave and pop music back to life, but it proved overwhelmingly that he could act like a complete bitch, and still cause audiences to fall in love with him again and again.