Sitting in The Paramount Theater for a concert, one feels like a nocturnal worshipper slipping into a gilded cathedral to hear the best preacher in town do his thing. With crystal chandeliers affixed to vaulted ceilings designed in the Beaux Arts style of Versailles, this venue could not have been a more appropriate space to hear one of the greatest vocalists of the twentieth century—Morrissey. And who wouldn’t agree to that? The venue’s emulation of cathedral was not purposeless on this night. Morrissey is as close to God as we mere mortals on earth could hope for. But as the night unwound, it became evident that even God is not perfect.
22 Aug 2002: The Paramount Theatre Seattle
In Seattle directly from the Sonic Music Festival in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan, “Miserable Morrissey” (his affectionate moniker throughout the indie pop rule of the Smiths) has gotten older and wiser. His persona was gently melodramatic, and invited the audience to roll back into the flickering memories of insecure high school days and the coming-into-yourself trials of college. Indeed the entire concert was a performance of nostalgia designed to take us back to post-puberty in more ways than one. His voice is amazingly angelic, and is capable of saturating even the Kingdom of Heaven with penetrating angst. Like a torrid addiction, he leaves you burning with the insatiable desire of wanting more.
Opening the show with “I Want the One I Can’t Have,” a beloved Smiths anthem, the Great One appeared on stage dressed in (take a guess) all black. Hair protruding upwards, arms swaying and microphone cord swinging as he sauntered back and forth on stage, he reached out to the masses of hands that surged forward to touch him. Crouching on his haunches and leaning forward, Morrissey, like a young, black-clad incarnate of the Pope, brushed their hands and even kissed a few as rabid screams filled the theatre. Launching into what would become a parade of songs from his brilliant debut Viva Hate, he treated the audience to an energized rendition of “Suedehead”, following its heels with “Hairdresser on Fire” and “Late Night, Maudlin Street”. Claiming he and the band had just written it in the lobby of the Doubletree Hotel, Morrissey followed his older tunes with “The First One in the Gang to Die”. Apologizing for playing new songs, he then sang “Mexico” and “I Like You”.
Though he seemed happy enough as fans threw large sunflowers and lilies to him onstage, as he caught and cradled them, then flung them back into the teeming audience, something happened. Even Morrissey seemed to sense this, and proclaimed: “Somebody smiled and broke the mood!” Perhaps this is why the next song for him to croon out was another Smiths favorite - “Meat is Murder”. Bathed in a darkish cerise light, Morrissey slowly found his way to the floor as he sang, and ended up lying down on it, the light covering him in a bloody shroud. This homage to his past and ours, the second Smiths songs he played, led him back to songs from his first album. In a surprising move, he played the first three songs from Viva Hate in order: the caustic “Alsatian Cousin”, followed by “Little Man, What Now?”, and completed with the hopeless melancholia of “Everyday is Like Sunday”.
By now, I realized that something was really missing from this show, and not even the wonders of Morrissey’s vocals could compensate. But one hardly had enough time to figure out what exactly the problem was. After a charged rendition of “November Spawned a Monster”, Morrissey thanked us and waved, disappearing into the black abyss of backstage. The band dismounted their instruments, took a bow and also exited the stage. About two minutes later, Morrissey came back on stage wearing a white shirt. “I hope that God, or someone very much like him, blesses you. Bless all of you,” he said, as the familiar chords of the Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” struck up. As climatic as this song could have been (and always has been for me in different contexts), it was spoiled towards the end when Morrissey finished the song without singing the end refrain of the song’s title. He simply finished before the song was over and walked offstage, leaving the band to finish of the song without his vocals to cushion the instruments. A one-song encore? The show had started at exactly 9:20pm and ended at 10:26pm. He had cared not to stretch out the moment, to indulge us in nostalgia—I felt all the more like an insecure teen upon whom Morrissey had inflicted premature ejaculation. Who was that damned soul who had dared to smile at Mozz?
I later confirmed my impulse of what occurred during the show that made it one of the less justifiable I have seen in years. Aside from feeling cheated of a full hour-and-a-half/ two hour show, elements of instrumentation that usually make Morrissey’s music so ethereal were missing. While Morrissey’s vocals are uncanny, they are always complimented with notes and musical movements that tend to move listeners. The concert was guitar-heavy, the electric guitar dominating most of the songs. Gone was the string section and piano (or even an attempt to emulate it with synthesizers and keyboards) that makes songs like “Everyday is Like Sunday” and “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” compliment his voice. As a fan beside me commented, “There was a definite lack of vibe between Morrissey and the players.” The short show and the lack of instrumentation robbed the audience of a full experience. Perhaps this is fine since it is Morrissey. But a lot changes when you go to church to discover yourself rather than to worship an idol. When he is onstage, I expect Mozz to live up to his reputation of being the Miserable One—and make me feel nostalgically miserable, too.